Archive for the 'in progress' Category

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?

Announcements

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.

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Scapegoat

I’ve been a scapegoat more times that I can count. Many’s the time I found myself tangled in some ridiculous, false, absurd accusation. Frankly, I believe that scapegoating is hard wired into human interaction.

At least that’s what my grandfather always said, and he was something of an expert on the subject. Jungian fellow, always looking for the archetype. What we have here, he said to me when I was 8, is a classic example of scapegoating. I was crushed, the ridiculous sad clown of the third grade, smacked down and beaten up by every fifth grader and even a few fourth graders every time the teachers turned their backs.

It was interesting the first time he talked about it. He told me half a dozen examples from his own case histories, each one worse than what I’d just experienced. By the time I’d heard it again and again, in 6th grade, 8th, 9th and on throughout highschool, though, it wasn’t interesting anymore. Grandpa had started to grow hair out of his ears, which I took to mean he could tell me whatever stupid Jungian story he wanted, but couldn’t hear anything I had to say back to him. Like, that’s fine in the abstract, but what does the scapegoat do about it?

This occurred to me around 17, last year of high school. I’d been a dumb suffering brute up until then, but suddenly this voice came to me — hey hey heeeeey, what about this, what about this harassment, there are plenty of other doofus 17 year old guys with skin worse than mine, worse social problems, why this relentless singling out of me? Me?  I can see myself, 14 years old, helping my mother make mayonnaise for her Sunday afternoon card game, and it doesn’t  look so bad, the white are raising, the yolks are blending, the lemon is lemony but not oppressive. Somehow, by Monday morning every jock and every cheerleader in Cherry Hills Middle School knows I’ve been making mayonnaise with my mommy. Mayo Clinic, they called me for three months.

Maybe that’s why I went to cooking school instead of medical school. I had a rich, complex, unusual relationship to the tongue, which I processed and served mixed with conventional ingredients that were presented in fantastic, grotesque shapes at the Madison Food Orgy, a three-day food festival event held in Madison in the early 90s. My tongue won 2nd place for best presentation two years running. This was a terrific first challenge.

There is a lot of disgrace in the food circuit; almost everybody has taken short cuts from time to time, but in cooking, with its small but powerful judges, it’s easy to underestimate the impact of the special foods section. I forgot, for two or three years, but I’m back now.

mayonnaise

Zola runs

After one hour. One hour. Not a talkative child, not really, but after one hour of riding in the high nest of a truly big semi cab, the girl starts to talk to the man behind the wheel. Ever been behind the wheel? Lot  of things to hear, and that high seat, looking out over the great highways, it’s a map, it’s a history. That driver, old-ish at 50 from driving hundred of thousands of miles, he’s like the pope, or a grand wizard, looking down on people like ants, and the girl is an ant. The man behind the wheel starts feeling himself to be a spiritual advisor. Life is the road. The road is life. He says stuff like that. So she starts to talk, and he listens in his big head Wizard of Oz way until he realizes no, this kid and her kid, that he picked up on a black road in a deep night, they’d really need to be far away from here.

This is where not too much can be said, or folks who are still here might suffer, might find sudden bad luck visited upon then. Even still, even now we can say that the girl brought her belly and her secrets with her on the road between Abilene and Padre, thanks to the big rig driver who was not the wizard of Oz, who set her off a little bit away from where she’d been going, back toward family who were willing not just to hide but to twist her secrets to keep the family looking right into the eyes of God.

Here is where time challenges some of what we know, because the woman, the child, the birth, the release of life into the open space – they push us uncomfortably toward the primitive, the unsanitary.

Zola labors

She refused a cigarette and did not want to sit down.

“I have been jealous before, don’t think I haven’t. This just isn’t it.” She said. She paced and the light in the room was hard and white. She was soft and brown. Soft and brown and angry, in more trouble than she knew. Too young, this girl. Odds were against her, if you want to know the truth.

“Tell us again why you shot him,” said the younger man, who might have been good looking if it weren’t for the bad skin and that expression. A flat expression, flat like a sidewalk, that gave nothing back. Zola stopped pacing and smoking for a minute to look at him. She had the cigarette hanging out of her mouth, like she’d practiced when she was learning how to smoke, and it was burning her eyes. She wiped them dry, and put the cigarette out.

“Going to tell you again that I didn’t shoot him. You got a hearing problem?” She said and she looked at him and dared him to tell her fuck-all. She rubbed her big belly and said she needed to sit down before she went into labor. The younger man looked away, sudden discomfort marking his face, adding to the acne scars and he looked too young to be hard like a sidewalk. She felt sorry for him, with that bad skin, maybe he might not be such a bad guy if…

The older man interrupted this line of thought with a sudden hard bang on the table. Hey, she thinks, suddenly energized by loud noises at this late stage of her pregnancy, these two are playing good cop/bad cop with me. The fog and the hormones cleared like a rough weather front all of a sudden and she played her one and only card. Childbirth. Clutching the belly, she crouched suddenly down and commenced a good primitive wail, like she’d learned in that Lamaze class her social worker had been taking her to. She leaned, she wailed, she tried to pee herself but couldn’t quite manage it. Bubba one and two couldn’t tell, though; she’d scared them already with that first round of deep breathing.

Zola prayed to the gods of delivery to spare her from an actual early labor, and they were listening. She was out of the hard tile room with the sharp white light and into the warm unconditional arms of her social worker and a maternity ward, where she spent the next three weeks as a ward of the state, eating good and with blankets, stuffed animals, and unlimited cable TV. They cut off her cigarettes, but this was better than jail and interrogation, she figured, and when she did finally give birth to that hairy little girl, she was happy to see the pink skin and the long newborn fingers, and all in all, she was glad she scared holy crap out of a couple of redneck cops if it led to this cadillac delivery, all nice and clean like she’s a lady with full medical coverage and a husband somewhere waiting in the hallway to come in after all is birthed and bathed and settled to pretty rights.

On more than one occasion in the life of Zola Gorgon, she’d fallen into a hormonal trance that convinced her that all was well and safe and easy. On more than one occasion, she’d snapped out of it in time to avoid permanent damage. This was one of those times.

 

Georgia and Tom on the Oregon Coast

rainforest

“You get a line and I’ll get a pole, honey, honey. You get a line and I’ll get a pole, babe. You get a line, I’ll get a pole, we’ll go down to the fishing hole, honey oh babe oh mine.”

Tom couldn’t help singing. Tom hitched a ride with his happy thumb on his way to Anchorage Alaska, where he intended to build an igloo and marry himself an Inuit girl, skin seal and harvest amethyst in the frozen ice caves of Siberia. Tom was a born entrepreneur, but a southerner too, at heart, and it got too dang cold for him just about midway up the coast of Oregon and he never made it to Alaska. Stopped in Gorgeous, Oregon, in the deep wet forest that runs along the west coast. For a year or two he lived on blackberries and fish and his hair grew long and shaggy. He slept too hard to snore, and was too unreconstructed to think about farming, or storing, or hardship.

Oregon is a fine plentiful place for people who don’t mind a little rain, and Tom got comfortable, although not soft. One summer he gave forestry a try, strip cutting a corner of the Kalmiopsis near Biscuit, but he found he could not bear to cut the tree people. There is more bleeding in a tree than he’d ever felt in a salmon, though he could not explain that to himself or the woman who eventually convinced him to put his shoes back on and get out of the tree. He became a spokesman for trees, a miner of bees, he cultivated honey, and made a little money. Then he planted gobble sum and toad willow and buddha fingers and poultry rhymes. He opened a nursery on the edge of a small state road where people who were not in quite such a hurry might stop and talk and buy a cold drink, a Yoohoo or a Sierra Mist. He sold plants and named them himself, as much the inventor of his own roadside stand as any other stepaway of that particular time and place.

The Oregon coast is green, wet, mossy, and cool. At one time (at the time of this story, in fact), there were not many signs or arrows pointing to particular destinations, and it was not unusual for strangers to lose their way. They might find themselves slipping from a long low road into an awning of dripping willows, lining the drive where Tom lived with his trees and the woman he eventually married. Her name was Berry, who stings the fingers and stains the mouth, but she was sweet on Tom and he on her, and this worked, out there in the small stone house where they lived together, with their bees, their honeysuckle, their ginger snap trail blossoms and their two-fingered lobulus marionettes. The garden was fresh and they grew herbs, and kept a few chickens, and wrote some books about living in Alaska and building igloos out of ice and amethyst, and swimming with polar bears in the melting snow waters of high summer in the far north.

Georgia liked to make honey syrup from the berries as they ripened. She made a blackberry syrup, raspberry, blueberry, mulberry and rye berry. Each one had a distinctive flavor and a color that was either natural to the berry or boiled in a colored honey blend to brighten them up. Tom smelled each syrup as it mixed, and measured and tested each flavor with nose and tongue and fingertip, looking for the combination that lifted the spirits and let them fly away out into the cool wet air, where smoke from wood fireplaces hung and ruffled in the cool breeze as the sun went down. The fireplace smell was ashes and fruit, and Georgia and Tom’s three big labs liked to lay there, slightly damp but warm throughout, to let the heat seep into their ribs when the nights were long. Georgia gave birth one time, then two, and Tom hung fishing nets along the fence on the deck where they sat while Georgia recovered. Georgia began to identify each of her two births from one another by markings, by sound, by temperament. She did this surreptitiously, quietly, on little padded cotton feet that did not track much into the house. Eventually, she considered naming the children, but by then they were up and ready to name themselves.

Zuzu trims her words

twister

 

We are trimming the verbiage early this spring. I took my clippers and my shears and eliminated adjectives, superlatives, an embarrassing overgrowth of verys, goods, and littles.

How does one fracture an overgrown root clump, a collection of twisted, knotted, entangled word sins? Might be done through confession, through deletion, through a combination of bleach and a cold wrap placed on the root ball. I’ve killed bores before, growing on word trees. My peach tree produced even as it was dying, sweet blush stone fruit hanging heavy on three limbs and a stunted trunk. It is in the nature of nature to grow whatever it may grow even in the process of dessication, aging, and a sinking downward into the ground. Bury. Reincarnate. Bury. Return. Turn.

I greet Poison in the spring and offer it a drink: please sit down, Mr. Poison, there is no reason to ostracize you just because your nature is to destroy, not to seduce or convince. I give Mr. Poison a seat in the yard, which is tender and thinking about blooming, and he waves at Mr. Lopper, they being old friends and collaborators from back when. We have iced tea, from a pitcher that is made of a hard plastic substance that imitates glass, which is made of sand, sand blown so hard and hot that it is harder than the desert and the sand that makes your feet hard as leather when you are a child and hard leather feet are appealing, like you’ve grown mocassins on your feet. I remember walking across the parking lot, the Piggly Wiggly, in July with the brothers, all of us running barefoot from one white painted parking stripe to the next. The paint just enough cooler than the tarmac to keep us from blistering our small brown feet. Where the hell were our parents? I think that was the year of mom’s diet pills and dad’s embarassing toupee. Cripes, those mid-life crises were really something back in the 60s.

 

How is it that people can not talk about things, can avoid verbs their entires lives until suddenly verbs are spilling out of every crevice and every confession is followed by another? Zuzu’s locked herself in her small apartment and is sitting out on the back porch stairs every evening looking at the patch of city that she can see over the fence. The city is full of verbs; she doesn’t know how she’s spent her 35 years not noticing this before. There’s a boy on a scooter; he is scooting. There, a man has broken a bottle. Over there, a bus smokes as it passes and a woman in lime green linen is smoking, too, with her back to the street, like she doesn’t want to be seen by someone she knows. Zuzu can see the woman’s face, which is lit by a street lamp as the sun is going down. The street is steep, which is not a verb but describes the effect of the street on the action of those ascending and descending. She is thinking about action, Zuzu, and she is thinking about postcards and how they used to come all the time from people on vacation, but now it is e-cards, which she can’t imagine she will be able to buy in those little trash-to-treasure stores that are fading like the peach tree in the tiny yard behind her apartment. Still giving out the sweetest of surprises; she even likes the smell of old stores. Dust falling in motes, a lavendar powder in a compress, the sharp smell of rust on nails in rickety wooden furniture. She smells past, she smells future. Zuzu sometimes dreams in French, sometimes in Spanish, sometimes in smell. She wakes up and hovering on the edge of her dream there is cinnamon and peppermint, there is the smell of envelope glue, there is the smell of rain. She used to chase thunderstorms back before she got here, on the coast, where smells blow in from the sea and hang in the fog, where they are partially hidden.

Zuzu stayed home for a week after she got a postcard that said “The tide’s gone out, will call later. Don’t worry. Love, Billy.” She sat on the back porch, smoking, watching the woman in green linen hiding her bad habits. “Don’t worry” was hovering in the air all week, a hummingbird, a seagull, a thin mist hanging, an unfinished thought.  Zuzu sat waiting for the next card to come.

Billy’s funerals

I am so shocked and celebrated, celibate and debauched. I knew there was a typhoon, I knew there was a storm that would make my mother’s hair curl. My mother, who goes to Larry’s to have her hair washed and set every week. Please understand.

No, don’t, I don’t know about begging. My mother went to Larry’s every week to have her hair washed and set. Before the storm that drug everything out of Mayhem, everything. The pet store, the garden and farm supply store, the pharmacy, the liquor store, the churches, the churches, the churches, the banks, the banks, the banks that rose with the water and washed away our sin.

I remember it, I was planting bulbs and thinking about the wisteria and the wind was rising. Mayor de Troi was holding a press conference to say we are all prepared, we are all prepared, we are all prepared to meet our makers, and she said this with a salt shaker in one hand and a lime in the other.

I’ve been writing for this little weekly newspaper for 12 years now, since I came home to take care of mom, who’s been washed away, washed by the blood of the lamb, only truthfully it appears that it was high tides and bad management that washed away everything in Mayhem, Texas, other than Helen’s big mouth and that parrot. I suppose if I’m a journalist, I’ve got a responsibility to write what I see. And so I did.

 

Billy Gumball became a man the day his mother was washed away by Hurricane Margarita. Zola always thought so, and when she came home to attend the funerals and wear the hair shirt that the prodigal children all wear, she saw him and he was not the same. They embraced, cotton meeting cotton with the familiarity of cousins, and she smiled at him.

That first funeral was numb like novacaine, like stroking out, and half of your body is missing. Half of your body is missing, and my body is my home, my neighbors, my mother, our candy shop and my celibacy. It rained and the wind blew and on my knees I met my maker and I was good and made. Then mother was dead, the parrot was sitting in the window of the candy store where the glass used to be and he was singing yo ho yo ho far away on the Santa Fe Trail.

That was when I knew I would be leaving, and when Zola showed up with her little girl and that coat with the fringes hanging down like she’s Custer only tougher, I knew we’d be going together.

Have you ever been to a funeral for an entire city? Have you ever carried your pen, your laptop, your tiny voice recorder with you to death after death to record in the mud and the stench that all is lost and somehow that is not a dramatic overstatement, but an actual statement that is more literal than anything you’ve ever said before in your life?

I had insurance. Not being dead, I was actually able to collect on it, unlike most of my neighbors, my mother, and Zola’s entire clan. We shook hands at the funeral, I gave her some lemon drops, some ginger chews, some extra hot peppermint, and some rye. In the evening, as the waters receded and the bones of my life were exposed, we drank the rye, and we planned out first steps out, away from Mayhem.


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