Unhappened Stories

I often wish I had made the effort to enjoy music with my grandmother when she was alive.  On lazy days my vinyl treasures blast Tommy Dorsey, Glen Miller, and Count Basie, with singers from that era.  I wonder what facial expressions grandmother would have made, what tapping of a foot or shake of a finger.  I crack a bittersweet smile.  A slippery clarinet reminds me how I might have entertained her back then, if only I’d practiced more in high school band class, or explored beyond my age-accepted genres.

I’d ask, “Why does that man’s voice wiggle like that when he sings the last word in each stanza?”  She’d say, “That was the style in those days,” meaning, “… in my days.”

She’d add her sweet soprano to Marlene’s voice, somewhere between alto and a place exotic.  I’d smile, my gleaming eyes telling her how relevant her music and her passion remain.  “I never really cared for Dietrich, but the boys sure loved her.”

“What boys?” I’d ask – wondering if she meant one of her husbands, or my uncles – looking for a story.

“The ones that came home after the war.”

But I never was much for listening to stories back then.  Wasn’t big on sitting still and paying attention to older folks, even my grandmother.  That is why this story never happened.

By Jeff Kubina from Columbia, Maryland (Typewriter) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

A Writer – After-the-Fact

I am a writer after-the-fact.  My favorite class in middle school was a literature class where our teacher (oh, how I wish I could remember that heroine’s name) encouraged some of the best poetry I’ve ever written, and taught us how to write persuasively through the most horrible song ever made up.  Seriously – it “REECed.”  Specifically – it was a labored rhythmic chant to the acronym she created – “ASPIREEREEREEC,” and if you write persuasive anythings, I’m sure you can fill in the words.  My favorite high school class was Mrs. Amy Leeson’s Literature class where we combined neuvo-geek with drama-chic with half the academic bowl team that she ran also active members of the school’s drama club (Ms. Leeson directing).  I still have the T-shirts – one with a puffy brain on it and the other with a shield that warned our opponents we were either coming home, “With our shields or on them!”  I can still sing all the lyrics to “Guys and Dolls,” and I still remember my first awareness of a transgender person in the form of 20th century artist, Wendy Walter.  Enlightenment.  That’s what the written word meant in my formative years.

But Dollar_sign_(reflective_metallic)only dreamers, those who are impractical from their youth with no good parenting or influence to set them right about financial security, responsibility, and avoidance of embarrassment, only those people would ever pursue a writing career out of high school.  Duh.  So I joined the Army Reserve, went to college for nearly eleven years before settling on a major and finishing it, and had two successful careers into my nearly middle age.  As a woman who observed typical corporate gender roles without question in my twenties, and later became a member of executive leadership in a tax-funded organization, I saw why feminism is still so relevant today.  I experienced proof, in my own journey, that the “American Dream” where your hard work and perseverance leads to success. can be true.  True, that is, if you are okay with the concept that success means upper-middle class but probably not Mercedes or Rolls Royce type of success.

I am a writer after-the-fact, because after a winding path to a place where I recognize the importance of balance, the ability to pay bills and have a roof over my head and still be home spending quality time with loved ones, still reaching out to friends from time to time and enjoying a latte, or hilarious conversation with wit flying at breakneck speeds – after coming to that conclusion, I am taking advantage of a tiny crack in reality that has opened up.  I am walking away from an 18 year career that I love, a great paycheck too, and returning to the land of “hand to mouth,” in order to write.  I find it fascinating that it took me 22 years to lift myself up by my bootstraps from poverty to the “upper-middle class” I mentioned, yet in just 42 days I will be immediately demoted to a level just slightly above that $17,000 annual salary I made in 1997.  I’m sure I’ll enjoy writing about that one day.

For now, suffice to say that my wife will be paying our bills and bringing home the bacon (in the form of the healthiest food we can afford for meals).  Instead of the “shotgun-style” three room house (in “Crackville”) I rented back then, we’ll be comfortable and happy in our lovely home with a gorgeous view of the Olympic mountains.  Granted – we’ll be paying on two mortgages: this one and the one we rent (thankfully) to a dutiful family in the South.  Granted – we’ll be biting our nails, hoping the skylights in the roof don’t spring a leak in one of the rainiest areas of the U.S., or the septic tank holds up, or the already warping wooden deck in the back doesn’t fall apart.  But we’ll have each other, and friends, and I’ll be writing anywhere from 3000 – 6000 words a day, and isn’t that what dreams are all about?

Amazing too, that it only took 22 years to ponder how it might have been if I’d ignored the corporate plantation owners’ offers to rack up credit card debt, the government subsidized bank offers to accumulate massive student loans and spend the next years of my life in servitude to those debts.  To consider the possibility of being happy with what can come from me instead of how hard I need to work to get things to come to me.  Perhaps the real lesson to be explored is how much I would even be able to write effectively if not for the trip down Al-Anon pain, debt-stress, heartaches, and coming out among the hundreds of other ingredients into the who I have become.  But again, that’s for another day.
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If I had it all to do over, I’d take more classes on writing.  And literature.  I remember thinking how I could cut down on my amount of required reading in college by limiting the Lit classes I took.  Messed up thinking.  At 41 years old, I find myself doing nerdy things like picking up a college literature text for a bargain at a Salvation Army Store and drooling over its variety of content once home.  I pour over the tiny text (and cringing, I admit to keeping a magnifying glass handy whilst reading it) and recall why I fell in love with Twain, Woolf, Poe, and others.

I am a writer after-the-fact, but I do wonder what I might have been if I’d been one of the irresponsible dreamers and become a writer before it all.  Would my children be those books I blush at, and shake my head about the travesty that anyone could make a killing off such base and carnal fruits – so simple and formulaic they don’t require a spellchecker or a care for unique plot design?  Was that a low blow?  The difference is: I don’t care at 41 years of triumph.  Have I read them?  Would I be able to speak with such clarity as to their contents if I hadn’t?  But I wouldn’t pay my hard earned money for them.  I know, I know.  I digress.

Ernest_Hemingway_at_the_Finca_Vigia,_Cuba_1946_-_NARA_-_192660     Would I be a writer of clarity and intelligence, or a rambling idiot who thinks twerking is something worth writing about?  Would I seek to write something with literary value, or be forced to the debt plantations anyway, striving toward a publishing contract that would pay my growing bills?  I will never know.
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I used to detest the upper classes.  I used to writhe in hatred for the entitled oblivious, the self-interested pundits, and shake my fist at the unfairness of it all.  I looked at writers like Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and all the others and thought, “Of course she/he can write something deep and meaningful – they can sit around in their ‘writing bungalow’ comforted by their inherited money and just spill words of virtue whenever the mood strikes them, no fiscal or leadership care in the world.”  I connected with the Kafka’s and those others who wrote from poverty or while struggling with the realities of 99 percent of humanity.  Yet, here I am.  In just 42 days I will be able to say – I am a writer, after-the-fact, who can write with limited care, surrounded by friends and family who don’t need me to supervise anything or make any crucial decisions.  I am a writer with stories and time.


 

Featured Image by Jeff Kubina from Columbia, Maryland (Typewriter) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The Writer’s Grave

There is a well – a reservoir that stores the great and lofty ideas of a writer.  Its depth requires an air tank and its miles from shore to shore – a sturdy vessel.  And while this repository of “what ifs,” insight, and observation is easily navigated while driving, waking, or standing in the shower … it does not lend itself to a map nor does it beacon in lucid moments at the keyboard.  White squallThis wealthy ocean, this Shangri-La cool drink of creativity, exists in just that moment, that exact spot in the time-space continuum, where fear flees and boldness declares white squalls of edgy inspiration – drowning the willing victim in new worlds and unexplored feelings.  A fickle sea when set as a destination.  A happy grave when found in distracted efforts into Otherland.  To die a little in that resting violent sea of throbbing neurons … every writer longs for that little bit of death each time they sit lively to perform their art.

George Mowgli – 9

He’s back.  If you haven’t followed George from the beginning of his adventure, feel free to seek out his stories by scrolling down to the “Be a Seeker” box on the right side and typing in “George Mowgli.”  You can also start from the very beginning by clicking here.


Her cackle from some location below elicits an involuntarily response, pushing the left side of his nose and mouth into a sneer.  “No doubt she’s turned on the stupid box and is laughing at some brain-sucking sitcom.  She’ll probably find it imperative to try and repeat the scene to me later.  Won’t matter if I’m engrossed in a good book or napping.”  He pulls his face out of the sneer as if putting a long abandoned piece of laundry back in its drawer.  Matter-of-fact.  No point letting more bitterness creep in.Airwalk Men's Mason Mocassin Slippers

In about three hours, Micah will either shut himself in the garage (AKA his workshop), or he’ll change into something similar to what he’s already wearing and head to his idea of a night out.  Thirty-eight years old and he’s still playing Dungeons and Dragons with kids ten or fifteen years younger than him.  Such a disappointment.

The moccasins that are his house shoes await him somewhere in the darkness above.  He should have put them on when he came down for breakfast this morning, he knows that now.  The climbing, always the climbing up and down, it was all he could think about after his morning ablutions.  “Is this what athletes go through before every game,” he wonders, “or maybe soldiers before a battle? Knowing they’ve done it many times before, but worried they might just be all tapped out?”  Another step … and then another … almost there.

Rockstar

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He sings into the microphone and tries to look out over the crowd equally.  But she has a lasso on his eyes and he wants to wail the words only to her.  His guitar feels heavier in his hands looking at her.  He imagines her body in his arms, her arms – the strap around his neck.  His fingers hold the fret and feel her pulse.  His fingers strum the seam line on the side of her hips.

He closes his eyes and remembers the last time they made love.  It was the same morning she left him, blood on his hands and tears tattooed on his soul.  The bridge arrives and he opens his eyes.  The crowd expands and contracts like a breathing animal and has swallowed her entirely in the time he took to reminisce.    His guitar becomes a rifle and he wants to aim into the mindless mass of fans and avenge her.  But he just keeps scratching the magazine and gripping the barrel.  A sea of eyes openly adores him while he preaches love into their ears, wishes them all gone, wills the reappearance of just one.  Hate fills him and he can’t understand its origin.  But the intensity – he understands the intensity.

The Croissant of Self-Consciousness

La parisienne almond croissant
What I love about this story is the extreme concern the narrator has for what others think, yet most of the concerns stem from his or her own prejudices and opinions about weight and others.  Also, I was careful not to expose the gender of the main character, but how fascinating that most readers will assume it is a female.  Enjoy and please tell me what you think!

The little cardboard box is small enough to stay on my lap during takeoff but large enough to be a nuisance.  When it is clear the box will not fit the seat pocket under the tray table, a tradeoff occurs between the newly deadened cell phone and the absorbing book that beckons, “What will he do next?  How will he live?”  The book wins and, before the plane finishes its taxi to the runway, the story resumes its previous bombardment.  This makes the eventual task of opening the little box and erasing its need to exist a carnival of, “Everyone’s watching.  How can this be done to avoid looking gluttonous and fat?”

Inside the box is the almond croissant the Library Bistro was pushing this morning before the light rail trip to the airport.  None of the other passengers on this puddle-jumper are endowed with such a little culinary treasure.  The tiny bag of honey mustard pretzel mix will be the extent of their gourmet experience.  That and a little plastic cup with limited choice of beverages will be the only “food service” this hour flight has to offer.  But the box must be deposed, its internal croissant dissolved without waste.  So the plane rises, and the show begins.

Among the plastic utensils, the spoon can be dismissed.  The fork and knife are essential to avoid smears of orange marmalade  on clothes, hands, or worse – the face.  Armies of napkins are strategically positioned.  As if this feature is not distracting enough, the Library Bistro provided black napkins – a clear message that to dine there is to join in the artistry.  In a “to-go” kit for plane travel, however, the message is, “Look at me!  No really, look!”

While the knife is barely a match for sawing the hefty pastry into three manageable sizes, at least it stays put in its box like an assistant in a magic show.  The passenger to the right is a saint.  She ignores the whole debacle.  This still leaves the entire left flank on the isle as spectators, not to mention the bustling stewardesses.  A premonition of their opinions, clay sculpted judgements of this spectacle, buffet the air.  But drink service has ended and the clock is ticking before trash service begins.  The show must go on.

Ever so gracefully, a little dab of marmalade here, a poke with the fork there, leaning in for an attempt at a humble bite of the thing.  Oh, how this must appear.  “Doesn’t look to be hurting for nourishment.”  “Don’t think that qualifies as diet food.”  Fully formed ceramic thoughts whiz past and smash into the seat back as I plod on.  Half gone, nearly finished!

What else must they see?  The new wedding band on my fork hand sparkles in the fake light.  At least they piece together, “fat and lonely.”  The latest shower gel assures a pleasant smell, so there’s that.  The last little corner of the croissant flakes apart and fingers are forced to deploy to ensure delivery of the rebel to its doom.  Sticky fingers result and black napkins aren’t ideal for cleanup in this particular scenario.  Praise the airline management (or whomever makes such decisions) for their distribution of little white cocktail napkins.  A couple dabs of Sprite does the trick, and the mission can be resumed.

The little cardboard box is handy for repackaging the napkins, the plastic utensils, the small ramekin of marmalade, and the last remnants of crumbs.  A few swishes and two gulps finishes off the Sprite and finally the tray table is ready for the approaching attendant.  A relief settles as the box drops into the rolling trash receptacle.  It occurs to me that I don’t even recall how the thing tasted.  But a clear area and a book to escape any leftover remnants of pottery tastes like survival. The croissant is dead.  Long live the croissant.

George Mowgli – 8.5 (Note)

Dear Readers,

 

George needs rest before continuing his perilous journey into the recesses of his mind.  He is taking a brief hiatus while his writer attempts to create something from scratch for a mystery writing contest.  He was a bit appalled at my thirst for competition, but when I mentioned I wasn’t 38 years old and still living at home his objections fell silent.  I apologized for hitting below the belt, to which he replied he probably wouldn’t feel it anyway.   I believe he has a much better sense of humor but I was careful to laugh politely out of respect.

In an effort to compromise, I allowed him to leave a forwarding address in case anyone wants to write him.  You may address any comments or questions to him below and I will be happy to serve as his personal secretary until his return.  You’ll also be happy to know that he guilt-tripped me into slapping up some poetry since it is National Poetry Writing Month.  So feel free to stay tuned for some flow.

 

Sincerely,

George’s Writer

George Mowgli – 8

His palms are slippery.  He turns his right hand over, barely recognizing the mottled exterior, the soft-skinned canvas of his lifelines loosely draped around the bones and swollen joints.  Like ghosts in his mind, a false duet of memories and the present, he can still make out the muscles of his youth as he twitches his thumb.  Days were when his calloused hands put in time at the lumber mill, returning home with nubby, dirt encrusted nails as evidence, scrapes and bruises the “war wounds” of their service.

A bar of Lava soap, wrapped in the dirty imprint of this or the other hand from those days, still convalesced on the shelf in the mudroom.  He thinks about tossing it once in awhile.  Recollections of the texture, the solace of that gritty lather under soothing warm water, prevent  further consideration.  Comforts of the past.  He splays his fingers and turns the decrepit looking thing away from his view, wafting air along the sweaty underside as best he can.  He dares not loose his grip on the railing yet.

 

READ ON –>

George Mowgli – 7

He’d wanted to name the baby, “George, Jr.” but Sarah whined it wouldn’t do.  Not poetic enough.  Not ear catching.  What would the girls at work think?  Looking back, he was certain she’d only agreed to have a baby because she wanted an excuse to stop working and stay at home.  It was clear, once the mission was accomplished, she was ill-prepared and had as much motherly instincts as a harp seal.  He’d watched one of those television documentaries on the creatures and experienced deja vu when he discovered the mothers abandon their defenseless babies vulnerable to predators, alone on the ice after only twelve days.

Now he knows what that must feel like.  Hadn’t put two and two together back when she forgot Micah was playing on the sun porch and locked the door.  Poor kid had nearly fainted of dehydration by the time she realized.  From all accounts over the years, Micah could have been one of those poor little babies that baked to death in the back seat while his mother lollygagged at the mall.  But for the strange ironic brew he’d come to accept where good things happened to bad people and bad people happened to good ones, Sarah would be seeking all manner of reporters and gullible ears to question “Why on Earth any legitimate legal system would put a poor mother behind bars for an innocent mistake that had taken her child from her bosom of love …”  Her flair for drama and talent for overlooking reality was cemented in the fabric of his familiar.  Try as George may, he can’t get the stain she leaves on his attitude to wash clean.

 

READ ON –>

George Mowgli – 6

It would never be said of his son – Micah, “A chip off the old block.”  A  middle-aged man of pale complexion and reddish brown hair – these and his glasses were the only traits that could be claimed as ever being shared between the men.  His son’s exterior was a contradiction.  One could easily make out his hefty midsection, still within the socially accepted picture of “average,” but gaining.  His choice in the latest alternative band t-shirts attempted a distraction to the mismatched area in contrast to his spindly legs and scrawny neck.  Lanky but graceful – his straight, wiry hair sat atop his globe as a wig might.

It was clearly his own hair; its roots visibly clawed into his head nearly a full inch behind where his forehead should have ended.  It seemed to follow a set of standing orders as it cascaded back and then, in tune with gravity, down the sides of his head in the form of a sort of academic-looking mullet.  That pasty, waxen forehead was accentuated by his choice in eye-wear.  Dark wire rims joined his cartoonish appearance, and together they defined the word, “spectacles.”  At 38, the boy had not acknowledged his adulthood, it seemed to George.  He dressed in rust colored jeans that hugged his legs, the shirt bloused over the waistline.  Wore suede construction boots with the ensemble.  “As if he’s worked a day of manual labor in his whole, enabled, meaningless life,” mutters George, as he counts and thinks, and waits for his lungs to join him once again in this life.

 

READ ON –>

George Mowgli – 5

George reaches up and pulls himself up again.  Amazing what energy can be found in those “cringing moments.”  His left toe catches the ledge as he brings it up and his right arm swings itself forward on its own volition to counterbalance his imminent demise.

Sarah had a mole that could be mistaken for a cold-sore.  She tried to apply her makeup to under accentuate its redness.  Lingering just above her lip and southwest of her right nostril, it could have become her trademark.  Entering her 40s  she should have accepted the “opinions and rumor mill be damned” attitude that is a right of passage most other older women enjoy.  Instead, her collaboration with her flamboyant beautician produced a pair of eyebrows – reminiscent of the golden arches – relegating her mole to a sideshow in the vaudeville that was her presence.

 

READ ON –>

George Mowgli – 4

He parked himself in denial years ago.  A stereotype behind the wheel, he refused to ask directions and insisted on reading his map any damn way he wanted.  It was upside down.  He smoked his smokes and drank his drinks and chuckled at the naysayers who warned him of death.  Now he smirks, and thinks, “They were still wrong.  Its not the death that means anything.  Its the landscape.”  His lungs confirm this assessment.  Bristles of perspiration tingle him all over, under his tummy rolls, beneath his unmentionables.

His real name is George, but today he thinks of himself as the boy raised in the rainforest (or was it a jungle), surrounded by pitiless wild animals with only the thought to devour him, or ignore him if a better meal is in view. It fits rather well given the selfish, oblivious nature of his son and ex-wife. These stairs are his daily hell. He is too proud to refuse or complain. The 38-year old man who still lives at home, his son, remains a “mama’s boy,” which explains why he remains clueless and disengaged from his father’s plight. His ex-tormentor, Sarah? He divorced the woman 18 years ago. The only difference George had been able to enjoy was that she’d moved out and occasionally (he’d begrudgingly learned of her debacles through their son) played the fool for all to see, flirting with the butcher at the supermarket.

He was actually in line once at the front when he’d heard her cackle.  He’d instinctively whipped his head toward the hideous but familiar squawk as one would turn at the sound of screeching tires, only to see the encore.  “Oh, hellooooooa!” she waved her entire 63 year old body at the poor man behind the meat counter.  “God help us! What is wrong with that ridiculous witch?” George snarled to himself.  The timid Mr. Schultz, caught in the middle of handing a more sane customer a pound of salami, had issued forth an awkward cough.  It was sort of the thing you would expect to happen after realizing your credit card was declined, or you’d locked your keys in the car.  Susan had turned to the lady friend she was with in line and giggled like a school girl, as if the camera was on but her mic wasn’t working.  She hadn’t even noticed her friend’s mouth agape or her pink cheeks of embarrassment.  Oblivious!

 

READ ON –>

George Mowgli – 3

Regrouping, he lifts his chin and peers into the void again.  “Not today.  They cannot win today.”  This silent affirmation does nothing for his motivation.  It summons several questions, and they roll around in his skull like mismatched cufflinks in a dead man’s shave kit.  “Will they even know of their victory?  Do they even know I’m fighting them?  How long will it actually take them to realize I’m gone?”  They had lived in his peripheral (or he in theirs) all these many years, yet had managed to miss every detail of his heart, his longings, his needs, his pain.

What is that poem?  He can’t recall.  Something about how people will laugh when you are up and leave you in the dust when you cry?  He remembers that paperback book of 101 poems he used to carry in his pocket as a young man.  His grandmother had given it to him and asked him to memorize one of the pages for her.  To this day he can still recite Longfellow’s “The Day is Done.”  “How very prophetic,” he thinks, and the dimple on his weathered face makes a small appearance.  He resigns himself to the irony and pulls himself up once more, before he has time to think about it.

 

READ ON –>

George Mowgli – 2

His lungs still struggle with each inhale, but the pace slows and he grabs the limb with his right hand, wiping the sweat from his left palm and repositioning.  He shifts his weight and raises his right knee just high enough to shove his foot onto the next ledge.  Leaning forward, his muscles strain and quiver as he brings his other foot up to stand nearly upright.  He is keenly aware of his bladder starting its familiar press, notifying him of a most basic human need.  He takes the next climb with similar awkwardness, but has to stop again for fear of falling.

Dizziness pervades his head and chest.  He can feel a cold sweat break out around his ribcage, and he is wheezing again.  He is only halfway there and doubt creeps into his mind, seeps into  little cracks in his soul, and darkens his outlook in billows like  octopus ink.  He tries not to cry, although his throat tightens and a few tears mingle with the sweat on the bridge of his nose.  He lets them drip, along with the sweat, to the carpet below.

 

READ ON –>

George Mowgli – 1

Yet another series.  If you haven’t discovered yet, I’m a bit fragmented and prefer to work in a million different directions.  So please enjoy what I believe to be the best I have so far … in little paragraph installments over the next few days.  … Unless I get bored and do something else again.    I’ll get wise soon and create a page to list all my series so you, Dear Reader, can follow those that tickle you.

 

George Mowgli

 

Mowgli squints into the dark jungle ceiling.  He grips the limb in his left hand and pauses to listen to his surroundings.  A low, mechanical hum emanates up from below.  A rhythmic ticking noise stalks him from behind.  His breathing heavy, he waits, and feels the slithering beads of sweat roll down this lower back.  Up overhead he can see nothing – no light spears through to help make out any shapes.  He closes his eyes and waits.  In the pitch black of his head, he hears the growl of some sinister creature nearby.  His eyes snap open.

There it is again, but this time he recognizes it.  His shoulders relax slightly as he acknowledges his stomach’s anger for leaving his meager breakfast unfinished.  He closes his eyes again and focuses on his breathing.  He will not worry about the growl.  There’s only so much cream-of-wheat one should be expected to stand.

 

READ ON –>