Archive for the 'improvisation' Category

Felipe II

Felipe II was the finest creator and destroyer of roadside attractions ever seen along Route 66 back in the day. Or roadside distractions, as he liked to call them.  Felipe had quick and changeable interests. The plastic reproduction of the redwood forest in Chloride, Arizona held his interest until it was two-thirds completed, and now it lies, a city of cracked and petrified plastic wood, with bumper stickers fading on the date shake shack – from the gulfstream waters to the Chloride forest – and the exit itself is a cluster of broken asphalt, a closed, possessive world. Felipe never looked back, it was said. Rumor had it there was no Felipe I, that’s what they said.

Felipe II wore a quirky wood band around his head, giving him the look of a suffering Christ with the figure of a Bob’s Big Boy. He did not tolerate philosophical discussions, but he did love time and the road itself.

“The older I become,” he told me the day we met – the only time we met – “the more connections I can make between time, experience and place.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Nothing, what the hell do you think I mean?” He said, and pulled out his map of California. Death Valley – good place for a dinosaur museum and ice skating rink. The Thing – it is whatever you want it to be. Wherever you want it to be. The roadside fruit stands, the tarantula meandering across the yellow lines, the shimmering road itself. That was time. I think that was time. To Felipe. Every crack in the road, every fissure, was another idea, another tumbleweed, another billboard. Every 100 miles a sign said “next gas 100 miles, stop here!” and we did. We bought copper bracelets and moccasins, postcards and ashtrays, plastic fish skeleton combs, mirrors with dead city logos embossed on the back.

Felipe II died in Flagstaff in 1982. His body was taken by Mexican bandits and laid out on the top of a flat red butte, and there he rejoined the earth, turning slowly into Felipe jerky, lines of his life spreading out on the hot surface, still visible even 30 years later. A faint tracing, like an old town, you can see it still, if you can find the way up.


Nkebe de Argentina

Clover comes in three colors: pea green, pale yellow and a bright unbelievable crimson – the crimson is only seen in Argentina, and even then only rarely. The national dance of Argentina is currently the hokey pokey, which seems to be a regional joke about politics and culture. The Argentinians are famous for their humor and their dancing, at least in their own minds. The tango was the first dance that provided enough leverage for the Argentinian culture to make the trip to western civ and back again, dressed in silk ruffles and Spanish combs. It was the tango that brought redemption to Argentina, helped break the country loose from the prison of poverty, with its frequent outbreaks of leprosy and the midnight elopements of girls marrying Greek immigrant gauchos, who carried them over the Argentinian pampas, living on hard tack and beef jerky. The saddleback mountains of northern Argentina are often enveloped in smoke, smoke and fog, that provides protection for a cloistered bunch of ornery old monks, Tibetan refugees hiding from the Greeks and the Argentinians alike. They are whimsical, deeply religious monks, and have ceremonies in the monastery that are magical and arcane. These they advertise by the hanging of prayer flags, scattered at intervals throughout the rocky terrain. Over the years the Tibetans have taken other lost Asians into the order, with monks eventually from Bangladesh and Calcutta, as well as from the Congo, some of them picked up during colonial safaris and sold for silver or bananas, but all of them ending up eventually in Argentina. One of these, whose name is Nkebe, jumped off a truck to keep from being sold and discovered. Nkebe had been on an involuntary road trip to everywhere, and everywhere made a point of having noxious grooming, with loud raspberries, farting and many vulgar comments about nose hair. Anything to keep the men on the road from seeing her as something other than one of them. She smoked and rambled and spit without regard, scratching herself in the back seat or the front. When the monks finally taught her how to write, finding she was bright and quick, she revealed herself to them. They ejected her from the monastery immediately, leaving her to live alone in the smoky foggy mountains and to write these stories that we will share with you now.

Mr. Meek’s calling

It is not right to call the vice president the spare tire. Mr. Meek did not know much about politics, but he knew something about manners, good and bad, and this was a clear case of bad manners. He’d also heard the vice president called bad seed, the Dark Lord, Satan, Pure Evil, and so on. But the one that bothered him the most was the spare tire. Mr. Meek did not know much about politics, but he knew that a spare tire was one that was rarely needed, dead weight, so to speak, and this sat wrong with him. One Sunday after the morning news shows, after months of thinking about it, he got into his Ford Focus and started on a road trip to talk about bad manners. Not about politics, which Mr. Meek did not know much about, but about ways to address one another. Even if, he reasoned, the vice president were the bad seed, the spare tire, Lucifer or the King of the Damned, it was still surely not politic (in the sense of not being polite, you see) to say so and to say so so repetitively.

Mr. Meek’s road trip took him through many towns, cities, states and regions. He’d thought originally of having a rally, if he could gather with him enough people of like mind, people who did not want to batter and chew on the heads of states or on anyone else, people of mild and sensitive dispositions like himself, and so he started by interviewing people in parking lots outside of grocery stores, malls, movie theaters and quick oil change garages. He asked as many questions as he dared, but found, to his disappointment, that people didn’t want to answer many questions.

In Lima, Arkansas, he found that he was lonely, driving through the American freeways night after night, and so he stopped in a pet store and bought the first of what was to be a long line of iguanas, which he raised in a terrarium in the back of his Subaru Forrester. Each night he brought the terrarium in with him to the Holiday Inn Express or the Comfort Inn, and each morning he returned the iguana to the back of the wagon. Iguanas do not like to travel, but they do like warm window seats in the sun belt, and this first iguana, as with all the others, liked to stretch out on the back of the back seat, basking in the bright American sun. It was inevitable that she would lose the tip of her tail to negotiations with windows and hatchbacks, and this too, became a feature of his road trips, from town to town the minstrel of modern etiquette, trying to find the standard by which we might be known, whether it be rustic but well-meaning manners, or polished but insincere, or some hybrid of the two. But what he found, in town after town, was a pattern of disregard thicker in the heartland than corn had been in his father’s time. He started to think of it as an accident, somehow, like the windows that snicked off the ends of his iguanas tails over the passing years. Something had snicked off the civility in public discourse, and it was almost rude now to say anything nice. If you can’t say something nasty, don’t say anything at all, he said to himself in an over-staffed car lot in Phoenix. The iguana bobbed her head and lay down in the sun, admiring Phoenix, admiring the back seat, and iguana had no rude thoughts at all.

Divinity and meringue

I put the poor darling in the cozy aperture behind the confessional, where they used to hide priests or Jews or maybe it was women accused of witchcraft. Anyway, there is an aperture there where a tired, scared, worried, overwrought man, woman or child might be tucked away quietly and given a cup of tea to settle down from whatever it was that startled them.

Surprising how many struggles there are in each and every life. Imagine them lined up end to end, the dominoes of human struggle reaching into the distant past, moving away into the future, a regular Doppler of worries. Money, sex, power, hunger. Picture our poor people right now, malnourished, obese, undereducated, overstimulated, and imagine their troubles, if you can. Or if you’d rather, the troubles of a queer jester in a king’s court in a renaissance time, clever and secretive and bold and headstrong, hiding his juice, his sweet wicked dreams from pope and papa alike. Or imagine the startled response of the dancer to a fall, a broken leg, a shortened femur, a lost career. My imagined dancer lost her career and went into sales instead, selling fiesta ware and revere ware and that rabbit wine opener in the kitchen department of a large department store in a city in the Midwest, where she was from originally but had not intended to return until the leg shattered, until her stained glass sunlit wishes sank, tired and disappointed, and then nothing.

Surprising how many struggles there are in each and every life. Imagine them lined up again and I see the snake, the venom, the secretions that come from the apple, the tree of knowledge, the rich tart taste of temptation making my mouth water even now as I sit and hand cups of tea and Kleenex to this overwrought woman who is sitting in my aperture, in my gentle little Church of the Divinity and Meringue, where I’ve been selling specialty candies, crème brulees and books from independent presses ever since I cashed in my retirement fund to make sweets instead of deadlines . Occasionally I make savories as well, perfectly ripe tomatoes and avocadoes stuffed with surprising flavors or decorated like edible Mr. Potato Heads, hair made of sprouts or carrot ribbons, and these are mobbed at the counter every time.

The pews are a great place to sit with tea and comforts, whether these are sweets or crumpets or little meaty bites. The church is a recreation of a 13th century cathedral, planted without ceremony in the middle of this pragmatic city between a strip mall and an Octopus car wash. I get a lot of customers who come in while their car is riding through the tropical rainforest next door, but not often weeping women who need to hide behind the confessional. When I first opened the shop, I put the cash register on the pulpit, where it dominated and distracted, and then moved it into the confessional, a silly whimsy on my part, but it was just the right size and gave customers time for quiet reflection and privacy, while they chose the baked good that spoke to them most tenderly, most forgivingly.

It is surprising to me how many struggles there are in each life, lined up like sad shoes in a clearance rack, like hams hanging in a butcher shop, like children standing in line in their kindergarten class, like men and women waiting for to pay for their pastry, to make their confession, to climb into their clean car with the fresh pine scent and drive away from here to somewhere else.

Wherein I talk to myself

Having started Nano without a plan whatsoever, I think it behooves me to think about what I’m writing. Who-what-when-where-why.

Here are some thoughts:

Who – Characters: I have a kiddo (Sofia), her parents (Jennifer and Stephen), her great aunt, her cousin (Florecita), her grandmother, and one artist (Desiree).

What – Thematically: Announcements. Endings and beginnings. The ways in which we hear other people’s narratives. Photo albums, family stories, wedding and obits in the newspaper.

Where – Place: Santa Fe for sure, other places as well, where characters might intersect in a transient way.

When – Time: Present.

Why/ POV?: Inclined to give each character some first person with an omniscient lurking narrator. Did that make sense?

Okay. Right now, my characters are straight out of central casting – too much rushing, but it’s a start.

What makes the theme / plot move?


Who announces what?

Tia Josefa does not announce anything; just reads the announcements of others. She would, presumably, get news about la familia before everyone else because she is looking for it.

Sofia, in common with Josefa, is observant and wants to know. She would also be attuned to new announcements.

Jennifer and Stephen are both professional observers and burned out empaths. They are uncomfortable applying their professional skills to their personal relationships.

Jennifer is hispanic, from Espanola. She and Stephen met in college (Santa Cruz) and settled in Santa Fe to start a business together. Mediation, counselling and conflict resolution. Jennifer leaves to become a sand box therapist for children. Stephen has a side interest in sculpture, metal work arts.

Desiree is a semi transient artist with a quick eye and some street sense. I need to know more about her, but I know she plays with texture and light, as an artist. Tends to be poor; not always, though.

That’s all for now, guys. I know it’ll be brutal for me to keep up with the numbers I need to generate, but I’m just back to work today (had the flu) and at least I’m thinking it through a little.

I haven’t put any little creatures in yet. That is an oversight.

I’ll be back later. I anticipate doing the bulk of my writing over the weekends. Because I work too much. That’s why.

Bottom feeder

another giant squid

This is what it’s like to be a bottom feeder. First of all, we love ink. Ink is invisibility. Ink is darkness. Ink is what we write our history with. Look out there, out there into the vast whiteness. It has nothing to say until the ink drops into its wide open. No turning back once the ink has been spilled.

You want to tell your history, that’s fine, nobody’s stopping you. You want to tell someone else’s history, that’s different. There’s danger there, smells like sulfur, smells like burning cactus, smells like the brushfire or the war that can rush in and wipe out an entire clan.

Once I was playing cards in the back room of a little trailer house in Four Corners and I heard the wind pick up suddenly, and it was like I could see them even from inside, tumbleweeds rushing across the black night and suddenly igniting, igniting like monks in red robes, self immolating and taking down the fragile open country and everything that lives there with it.

I understand the meditative life of the tumbleweed, I understand the need to move, to feel the wind catch and carry us somewhere new. I knew about that even before I left Navajo country after the fire. I found my home on water, water green and blue and dark, almost black, where I fell in and never went back to dry land again, not for more than two, three days at a time. Long enough to find myself lurching when I came back to dry land, feeling the hitch and pull of gravity and rotation more strongly than I felt them on the water.

My family’s been landlocked for hundreds of years, most of them. My sea ways made me foreign, weird and unrecognizable as a giant squid, coming up from the deep only rarely, with gifts for my sister’s children, and then her grandchildren, until I am the only old salt on the Navajo nation, bringing seaweed ristras and monkey balls and painted tentacles. I stay a couple days, give them the salty sweet taste of my bottom feeder’s life, and then I leave again, leaving behind nothing but a trail of ink, and a history they can fabricate from the secrets hidden in the bright open sky and the black mesa reaching in the four directions around them.

For me, I add two more directions: straight up into the heavens, and straight down, into the cold, dark waters, where the wild shy ones live, where I feel most at home.

The singing beggar

gold lame

There once was a beggar who loved to hear himself sing. He started out as a child.

Most singers start out as children. I remember, myself, singing to my small dolls, which were made of popsicle sticks dressed in fabric scraps. At that time, gingham was easily come by, but my small dolls did not sing back to me until after the war, when the fabric samples suddenly bloomed. The gingham was still there, but also sequined fabrics, gold lame, bright silks, rayon, some thin gauzy fabrics that were neither silk nor satin. My popsicle dolls dressed more and more for evening wear, their little painted faces had rosebud mouths and eyelashes drawn on for many nights on the town. They put on little plays, some geisha action, but with Debbie Reynold’s moral sensibilities, and these popsicle girls were terribly conflicted. I didn’t know what to do with them, exactly, and put them away for some time. Took singing lessons, etiquette, even found a small Korean book on how to entertain American service men. This was in English, marginally, with many grammatical errors but the basic message intact: listen carefully, your face must mirror your companion, no extra movement of body, hands or face.

I taught my dolls to keep their faces still and their stick bodies well dressed. We learned to sing simple Korean songs, little jingles that had two or three American English words. I learned to tilt my head at the exact right angle to convey interest, kindness, and willingness.  My dolls had red rosy cheeks.

Then one day my uncle, who was an American serviceman, came by to say hello and to bring us presents. When he saw my dolls, he took them and crushed them and screamed at my many Korean moms, who were raising me to be right for them, right like they were being, and I felt sad, confused, and angry, too, to tell you the truth. Then I went away to school at the American school where Ken, my American sponsor, sent me, until I was 17, when I went away to the U.S. to go to college, where I studied music. And that is another story.

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