Monday, October 20, 2008

Woken - flash fiction

I'm at Edenfred again today. Lovely cool rainy day to be inside writing.

A flash fiction piece I wrote this last week. When I spoke to my friend Owen about it, I told him about how before writing this I was feeling very resistant, very sort of "why should I write, I have nothing to write about, I'm not going to write right now," etc. And then the first line came into my head, as is often the case with flash fiction, and out this came, basically as is.

Still needs revision, but here it is for your perusal!

I am still waiting to hear back from flashfiction.com to see if they are publishing some of mine.

As for the novel, which is the drive of most of today, I am completely revising the beginning, adding new, young characters, to show the story more for me. You'll be happy to know I START with dialog! That's how committed I am to change...

More later...

Miriam

-------------------

“Woken”
A Flash Fiction by Miriam Hall
She waits, the last customer at the neighborhood sushi joint, in the far corner chair, where she can see all walls both outside the window and those closing her in. Anyone walking by would say she could just as easily be an employee and someone finishing their food – her glance, unnoticing, set at a point far off from Ashland Avenue, goes unmet, and her focus undefined.
She is, in fact, a customer, or would have been more of one if he hadn’t stood her up.
“In the age of cell phones there’s no excuse for this kind of thing,” the waitress offers indirect and unasked-for commiseration to the waiting woman, who does not, mercifully, even hear her. She does not see the $1.52 check for her Sprite in a red plastic Coca-cola cup, nor does she notice that everyone else has left; only that he never arrived.
Once a week, the employees take turns sweeping up at the end of the night. This means they only have to stay late one night out of seven, and as they almost all have children, they can go home a bit early the other nights. The blond, 40-ish woman who’s been there all dinner hour and well into the end of the drinking crowd has gone virtually unnoticed by anyone but her waitress. Never has she gone to the bathroom or stray from her station, gripping her cell phone as if to strangle it in her right hand, her forehead half against the glass and left hand wrapped around her waist, as if cradling or holding herself.
So the last employee, a young man of South American descent, doesn’t even notice her until everyone else has left. He figures she must be asleep, and as they don’t use a vacuum cleaner or anything loud while wiping things down, he figures he’ll let her rest. She does not even flicker when he shuts off the neon sign declaring them “OPEN” (it had lost the N last week, leading locals to joke the their country yokel friends that “OPE” was Japanese for “OPEN”).
The young man takes his time, both so he can clock out on the full hour and to respect the sadness she’d feel on waking only to find her date never showed. For that must be her story. That she got stood up. He wonders about her story – had gotten a small snippet or two from her waitress as she clocked out. In fact, he becomes so attached to her, in a way, and the little stories he’s made up for her – that she’s a widow who will never find love again, or 40 and still single, that as he sweeps closer to her he dreads waking her, wonders if he could just leave her there. But then he realizes she will panic if she wakes truly alone in the restaurant, especially if he locks her in.
He studies her in what remains of the street lights – like that Hopper painting he saw at the Art Institute last year, of the two folks in the cafĂ©, sitting side by side, staring out the window, totally alone. Lonely, without even trying, by default.
He becomes a bit resentful. “Why do I have to be the one to wake the lady?” The clock ticks closer to the hour and he realizes he will have to wake her, he has to clock out on time or they will wonder what kind of shenanigans he was up to.
“She must be deaf,” he thinks, as he sprays her table with ammonia, “how can she not have heard me by now?” Then he really begins to worry, “what if she is DEAD?” Her eyes don’t even appear to do the kind of fluttering blinks closed and dreaming eyes do. He takes his rag with ammonia and sets it under her nose, thinking the fumes would be the test. A bit like smelling salts.
It works.
She opens her eyes slowly and he sees her blue irises squeeze and contract with new light, though the place is the dimmest its been all night.
She did not look confused.
“Finally, you came,” she smiles and reaches over to pull his head to hers.
“I waited for you all night,” she sighs, without a hint of complaint, as if she were saying it was sunny outside today. Which it had been.
She kissed him on the lips.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Must watch.

Wow. Watch this.
(sorry link didn't work before)

Amy Tan on creativity and "making something out of nothing."
Well worth the 20 minutes.
This is also a great "talks" site.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Making Friends with Death

(title of a Judith Lief book on death - which is very good - and also on my mind lately)

Today I went on a trek with carrielovespuppies from Flickr (who also works with my babe), to Columbus, WI. As soon as I said I wanted to go out of town with her to hang out, she picked a visit to a fiber store out there, and I was elated, figuring we could go check out the odd and slightly scary but still significant Christopher Columbus Museum (the day AFTER Columbus day, nonetheless - which is inside of WI's biggest antique mall) and poke around antique shops and take pix (ok, I would anyway) of ironic small town stuff.

A few days ago I also remembered that I had promised myself last fall I could take pictures of Halloween, since I suddenly just sort of NOTICED (see this and this) it last year for the first time in a long time. It was Minneapolis - a trip doing a dharma arts program, and I was wide awake to the world in all its splendor and irony. And boy did I ever notice how the decorations - though these two examples are mild - seemed incongruous. They clearly begin to point at death. Empty pumpkin heads. Gravestones on public yards, ghosts made of tin cans and sheets. But like Valentine's day, the death is sort of not the point anymore, like the love left behind in Hallmark commercialism. So when we did Level 3/Absolute Eye (see Manic Nirvana entry and special set on Flickr entitled "chicago with John McQuade" I realized it was all coming together. The way we skirt and play with death without talking about it, just like we deal with all cravings and fear, attraction, hatred and ignorance - through commercials, consumption and jokes.

Especially after watching a good friend's dog die in my care (see last entry) and burying her today, I knew I needed to "do" something about this - art therapy. So when we headed out to Columbus, I made a deal with Carrie: stop for me if we aren't on a highway so I can capture some of this on film, ok? Or on disc, anyway.

And boy. There weren't a lot of houses, not as many as we thought we'd see, but when we found them boy did they stand out. One house was unbelievable - a real-looking mummy, much more real-ish than anything else on their yard. That threw me for a major loop. Here I was, about to go bury a beloved dog (who, it turns out, was 17, by the way, not 15!) and there's a totally fake but real looking mummy on the yard.

And so on. Photos will be up soon. But it became clear - as we got lost on the way and had to be back so I could go to Milwaukee for the funeral - that I will be going back out again. And ever.

The fiber shop, Susan's Fiber Shop, was also great in a very life-affirming way. But I recommend calling for directions - the googlemap ones got us lost.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Gizmo the sweet Pomeranian

Today, after 12 hours or so of sickness and struggle, Angel Green and Jer Strandberg's lovely 15 year old Pomeranian, Gizmo, died. She was in our care. (NEW: SEE MOVIE BELOW)

Angel and Jer are currently on a one month trip to Turkey and Italy. They were about 1/2 way through. Angel and Jer had trusted us with Gizmo, a prized and miraculous pet, for the entirety of their trip. Though we talked top limits of money to spend to save her and other logistics, none of us hoped it would come to this, of course.

Gizmo got along well with our cats, both of whom were rescued from rough situations by Jer and Angel, who live up to Angel's name, especially as animals are concerned. We tried our best. A few days ago we took her to their normal vet, as she had "cold" symptoms. He gave her nose spray and we dutifully added it to her multi-pill regimen. Yesterday, when he said we should bring her back if she wasn't doing better, she seemed great. Little to no snot.

Until after the vet closed, that is, as often is the case. Then, she began to wane a bit. Coughed up mucus until she puked - which her owners had warned us she would do, even on a normal day. She seemed tired, but nothing too excessive. We went to sleep - or tried to - figuring we'd take her in in the morning if we needed to.

And did we ever. Woke at 10am and she was laboring her breath, standing, unable to move her arthritic legs. We took her right in, and the doctor gave us the worst choice a petsitter can hear: "she's ill, almost dying, in pain, struggling. Do we intervene or let her go?" They had asked us not to put her to sleep until we got ahold of them. The Xrays were horrible - large amounts of fluid or tissue covering her lungs, so the doc couldn't even see what was in them. A tumor, her guess, or a massive infection. Then later, tests showed kidney failure.

So we called every0ne. Called hotels, parents, cell phones, all of it. Their hostess at their hotel in Istanbul was great - got the message to them. Then the other calls: calling their regular vet, calling other parents, calling Travelocity to change their tickets so they could come home asap. Many many calls of "what should we do now?". Then, after I went up to rest and have some silence, THE CALL, or second to last one "we've decided. We will put her to sleep. Will you go be with her?" And so we left, going to meet Angel's mom along the way, driving in from Milwaukee.

On the way there, not 5 minutes from the ER, the call. "She's gone."

By this merit, may all obtain omniscience.
May it defeat the enemy wrongdoing.
From the stormy waves of old age, sickness and death,
From the ocean of samsara, may this free all beings.

We sat with dead her for a bit, petted her stiff body. No more snuffling. Dylan had had some great imiations of Gizmo - for even when she was healthy she had a collapsed trachea and made odd noises all the time except when sleeping. We stood silently and watched all the times she didn't breathe, all the times she didn't bark or sniffle or sneeze. Until it was enough to know. The doctor told us Angel's mom has turned around and we could go home.

It's quiet in the house. The cats know something is up, their odd guest gone. The weather, unseasonably hot and humid today, has finally cooled off. We stare at each other, stunned.
What next? A fall of death.

From the stormy waves of old age, sickness and death,
From the ocean of samsara, may this free all beings. video

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Manic Nirvana


Though normally I am a bit bitter about re-use of Buddhist concepts in popular culture, the fact is that this Robert Plant album title describes exactly how I have felt the last few weeks. Especially this last weekend.

Another glorious spread, feast of truth delight, decked out in front of me. A weekend of wedding and Ikebana (contemplative flower arranging) taught by my friend Lisa Stanley from Minneapolis. A weekend of writing retreat at my friend and student's house out in Arena Wi. So much love and nature and compassion and oh, yes, writing, packed into one single weekend. Then this last weekend, the desert on the feast, the feather in the cap, John McQuade's visit to Chicago to teach the first ever weekend of Level 3 and Absolute Eye. Six of my students from Madison, seven more Chicagoans, and another newer teacher from Kansas City. Glorious fun fest, filled with re-conceptualizing confusion and art in new eyes. Hundreds of photos, huge meals and beautiful faces. I could have cried numerous times.

Then this, in my email box today from John, who is back in Toronto now, as I am back in Madison and returning to some kind of "normalcy":
"I already miss you so much. But that is the way it is: one of those "Shambhala teachings"."

It's true. This is normalcy, actually. Loss and gain in one fell swoop. So many times I considered moving to Toronto to be close to him, and after Rauschenburg's death, we spoke a lot of how we need more time together, you never know what will happen. But we are making it happen. Teacher training in Chicago next May. Excuses for visits to Madison (like, say, our wedding!). Time to hang out, time to transmit, time to witness. Time for Manic Nirvana.

If you want to see the results, which I will be posting over the next few days, please do:
www.flickr.com/photos/herspiral. As Julie (flickr id: marottachicago) said "a weekend of eye orgasms" - and that was something she said BEFORE the weekend began!