A Group Story to Keep from Going Nuts

If you’re like me, you’re starting to understand why pets try to run out of the house every time the door opens. (I wish I could take credit for that. It’s a meme going around Facebook.) In other words, I’m going stir crazy. Even this introvert is starting to miss community interaction, so recently I posted the following on my blog’s Facebook group:

Write a story with me! Everyone contribute a few sentences at a time. Please keep it relatively PG, and expand and read all comments before contributing. If it works out, I’ll post it on my blog.

I contributed the first sentence and chimed in to keep the story on track here and there, but special thanks to Chuck Christison, Cris LeCompte, Jennifer Dropkin, and Florita Robinson for contributing. This was fun! I may have to do it again!

Without further ado, here’s the story we came up with:

Serenity’s Tenement

In spite of the quarantine, Serenity was able to entertain herself by eavesdropping on her neighbors from the balcony of her crowded tenement.

And then a sound came to her that she had never heard during her daily, and now hourly observation, of the sights and sounds of her very small corner of the place she called home.

This particular conversation seemed to be rather one-sided until a response came in a guttural voice that sounded like the dog replying.

Could it be Mrs. Polliver’s poodle from across the way? Surely not.

Or maybe it was Mr. Pratt, that old guy who always smelled of cheap booze and cigarettes. They say he used to be a Negro league baseball player of some import. He even knew Jackie Robinson when he was a kid.

He did have a guttural voice, there’s no denying it. But he was a man of few words, once you got past all the Jackie Robinson stories.

Serenity didn’t think it was him though. He is only happy when his small social security check comes in and he can stock up at the bodega. Otherwise he doesn’t say much as he is slumped on the front stoop. It’s god awful hot and humid and people in these parts don’t have any cool air.

People were getting restless from the heat and the fact that they couldn’t leave their homes. Arguments were breaking out throughout the building. But this particular conversation didn’t sound like an argument. It sounded much more sinister.

It was the funniest thing to watch Ms. Shuller and Ms. Lopez argue while leaning out their windows. Serenity was not sure what it was about, but all that “red in the face” , hand waving and yelling must have been about something. She was really afraid they were going to fall out of their 3rd floor windows and splatt on that concrete.

Serenity wished those old biddies would shut up, so she could hear the machinations going on below.

She loved that word “machinations”. She heard it on TV, Jeopardy, she thought. Always lot of big words on that show. There is that sound again. It didn’t sound natural.

It sounded like a cross between a bagpipe and Mr. Tolliver’s typical after dinner belch, but sound tended to echo in this alley in unpredictable ways.

But then Serenity heard Ms. Lopez say to Ms. Shuller, “You shouldn’t have taken that package off of his stoop after he went back in to get more cigarettes.”

Ms. Shuller replied, “Nonsense. He’ll never miss it! Let’s see what’s inside!” Intrigued, Serenity peeked over her balcony railing. Could the package be where the strange sound was coming from?

The package was wrapped in brown paper with a ton of tape. Covered with a colorful mass of different size stamps all in symbols I didn’t recognize. Sure wasn’t English.

Ms. Shuller noticed some holes punched into the side of the package.

As Ms Shuller peered closely at the holes, she realized she heard a scratching sound from within the package. What could it possibly be?

And then the stench hit her.

It smelled like a combination of curdled milk and rotting asparagus. “Ugh!” Ms. Shuller screamed, and she tossed the package as far away from her as she possibly could. It landed squarely on Serenity’s balcony.

And then it moved.

I’ll repeat that in case you didn’t hear it the first time. It. Moved.

Suddenly the quarantine felt like the least of Serenity’s worries.

So Serenity thinks to herself? “Self? How bad could it be?” Summoning her inner explorer, she took out her trusty well-worn pocketknife, a gift from her grandmother, and started in.

But then she had second thoughts.

Serenity shrieked and jumped to the corner of her balcony. Now what?! She did not dare open the package. There is a 2 meter social distance, remember?!

So she grabbed a broom, and holding the knife in front of her for protection, she flipped the package over her railing. It landed squarely on the lap of Mr. Pratt, who had been passed out on the front stoop. He said…

“What did you get from Borneo?” He slipped into a chatty high pitched language as he rattled off the price paid, where it came from, and a story of being marooned with pretty local girls during that Typhoon in ‘46. He was just getting furloughed from the merchant marines and he was flush with Yankee dollars.

“Beats me,” Serenity shouted down. “It’s your package. Ms. Shuller stole it off you when you went in for cigarettes.”

“Did not!” Ms. Shuller shouted.

As his cloudy eyes focused, a sense of knowing came over him. He straightened up with an air of long lost tenderness. “Oh , Suni my dear?” His gnarled hands traced the exterior of the box gingerly that were splashed with his tears. “How could you ?”

Suni had been a surprise when Mr Pratt returned to Borneo eighteen years after his visit in ’46. It was quite something to discover he’d been a father without knowing all those years.

He had loved her instantly like any father would have. Alas, he could not obtain the visa to stick around. As a parting gift, he had gone to the local market and gotten her a Spectacled Flowerpecker. She had loved that bird and named it Phinnius, after her father.

When Mr. Pratt finally managed to cut the tape on one corner, he could see a single black eye looking back at him, Staring right into his psyche.

“Oh, Suni,” he said. “How could you?” Because gazing up at him was the very bird he’d given his daughter so long ago. In the package were its favorite foods, milk and asparagus, both long since spoiled. The creature was ravenous.

Then Mr. Pratt took a closer look and realized that it wasn’t his namesake, Phinneas the Spectacled Flowerpecker, after all. It was a Magpie Robin, and it needed a veterinarian who would not tell the authorities that it had made it from Borneo to the States without detection. And it needed some insects to eat. Whatever that stinky mush was in the bottom of the box, it wasn’t asparagus or milk….

Mr. Pratt was relieved that it wasn’t Phinneas after all, as he couldn’t imagine what he could have done to Suni to make her reject that gift. Then he noticed that there was a card inside a plastic bag at the bottom of the box. He had to wipe the stinky mush away to get to it, but he’d done worse in his time. He carefully opened the card. It said…

“Dear Dad, I know that you blame yourself for being absent in my life but I wanted you to know I forgive you. You did the best with what you had”. I hope this gift makes it to you and ……”

…and the rest of the sentence was blurred out by the stinky mush that had gotten through the plastic! Mr. Pratt whipped out his cell phone and called Suni in Borneo. “Suni,” he said,…

But Serenity couldn’t understand the rest as it was in another language.

While the words in the note were trashed, his eyes were drawn to the picture. The childish drawing of a stick figure tall man and a smaller stick figure child with a heart and a sun

And as the cheap booze-addled brain began to clear, he recognized that picture as being similar to the ones that Suni used to draw with worn crayons and scrap paper to leave in his lunchbox before he went to work. Many days of toil were broken by her sweet pictures. The emotions came flooding back as tears filled his eyes and poured down his weather worn cheeks.

“I love you, Suni,” he said. “Stay safe during this quarantine. Wash your hands.” His tears flowed as he hung up the phone.

Seeing this, Serenity wanted to hug the old derelict, but in these times of quarantine and social distance, she knew she couldn’t do so. So instead, she lowered a bag of birdseed down on a string. “For your new friend,” She said.

She then stuck her tongue out at Ms. Shuller, the package thief. Ms. Shuller went inside and slammed the window shut. But everyone knew she wouldn’t sulk for long. It was too hot to sit inside.

Mr. Pratt took the seeds and poured them into his cupped hand as the Magpie Robin began to peck at the seeds. After several minutes of frantic feeding it stopped. The bird looked up at Mr. Pratt and made eye contact. At the very moment he felt as if he had been transported to Suni’s side. He felt that wave of contentment flood over him and he closed his eyes to take it all in as it washed over him.

Even in this time of social distancing, there are ways to reach out.

Serenity looked at all the people on the various balconies and realized that each one had a story. And somehow that brought her comfort. We are each unique, and yet we are all in this together. As the bird began to sing, she felt as though she might survive this quarantine with her sanity intact after all.

tenement-2-web

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The Great Tapestry

Recently, I’ve discovered that several of my friends have connected in unexpected ways. It really makes me happy. In some cases, I have been the catalyst in these connections, and in others, the situation has been completely random. It makes me feel like we are all a part of a beautiful, colorful, complex tapestry.

I met one friend through my grief support group. Eventually, we became Facebook friends. That’s how we discovered that we have a mutual Facebook friend, who also happens to be the cousin of one of my closest friends in Florida. These two Facebook friends work together. I know very few people in this city, so the odds of my knowing two coworkers, who I met in random, distinct ways, is pretty amazing.

I also met my husband through that same grief support group. It’s a group that I wouldn’t have known about if it weren’t for the fact that two other friends, separately, during the same time period, recommended that I attend. So they both take credit for my marriage.

I met Bob through my Drawbridge Lovers Facebook group. I met Linda through my View from a Drawbridge Facebook group. One day Linda asked me how I knew Bob. Awesome coincidence: they’re on the brink of getting married. I’m thrilled to be a vicarious witness to that love story, which is happening in another state, to two people I’ve never met face to face, but respect very highly.

I introduced another dear friend who is in Canada to someone who is in Kentucky, and they’ve been in a supportive, happy, internet relationship for about a decade now. More power to them.

I met two other people in the exact same week about 12 years ago, and they’ve also been together ever since. (Not that I had anything to do with that, but it is a delightful synchronicity.)

I met one friend through a story telling group that I used to attend. She became the editor of my first book. I met another friend through that same group, but on a different day. She was actually just passing through town, and lives on the other side of the continent. She wrote the introduction to my first book. And it turns out that now the two of them work for the same organization, which the first friend wouldn’t have known about if it hadn’t been for my introducing her to the second friend. What a mazel!

I also have a friend in Argentina who introduced me to a friend in Georgia, who I had the opportunity to hear in concert in Florida. So even borders cannot prevent connections. Borders, in fact, are artificial constructs.

I guess my point is that we’re all threads in the great tapestry of the universe. Whether we are the warp or the weft, the long or the short, the coarse or the smooth, we all play our part. We may not even know we are connected, but somehow, rest assured, we are.

http _img00.deviantart.net_5162_i_2017_129_5_5_hand_woven_tapestry__beloved_lover_by_maximo_laura_by_maximo_laura-db8nfcw

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N-N-1 Again

There’s an interesting project that’s been floating around in the blogosphere, thanks to my friends Anju and Norm, who write the blogs This Labyrinth I Roam and Classical Gasbag, respectively. It’s called N-N-1, where the first N stands for the number of participants, the second for the number of photos (they should be the same), and the 1 stands for one time. They thought it would be interesting to see what people all over the world were doing/seeing/experiencing at the same point in time.

Basically, you take a picture within a designated timeframe, and then write 50-200 words about it. You turn it in to the designated host (which this time happens to be Natalie, from the blog Wild Rivers Run South). You don’t have to be a blogger to participate, but if you are, when you turn this in to Natalie, give her a link to your blog and/or website as well, and she’ll include it.

Sound interesting? I know the deadline is rather short for this one. Entirely my bad for not posting this sooner. Here’s Natalie’s information in her own words:

Miss Anju and Mr. Norm asked me to host the next N-N-1. With some fear in my heart, I accepted. But because of the person I am, I want to make this one slightly different.

We have done themes before, and I like them, so this time let us do the theme “Season Changes.” The theme is voluntary, so you are not required to stick with it. Secondly, rather than be forced to take your picture on a specific date and time, or even just a specific date, you have a three day window to take the picture.

Now for the details:

Take your picture sometime between Thursday, May 2nd and midnight on Saturday, May 4th. Send your picture, a bit of writing (no more than 200 words of prose or poetry) to me at ngarvois@gmail.com no later than midnight on Monday, May 6th. Oh! All times are local to where you are. I’ll put all of the submissions together and post them in my blog, wildriversrunsouth.wordpress.com, and send you a link so that you can reblog the post if you want to. You do not need a blog in order to participate. If you know somebody who would like to participate, please let them know.

I hope you’ll participate. It’s been a very fun and eye-opening experience in the past. I’ve shared two of them on my blog, here and here. Check ’em out, and contact Natalie!

Images around the world

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Flags Scare Me

The first flags were battle standards used during conflict. In times like those, especially when battles were bloody and fought face to face and you were usually slaughtering your neighbors who looked just like you, it was rather important to indicate whose side you were on.

Think about that for a minute. We have to be able to tell each other apart in order to kill the right people. Because if we were all running around naked and flagless, we would all essentially be the same. In which case, what the hell are we fighting for?

Good freakin’ question. What are we fighting for? I think the last war that was waged even tangentially for moral purposes (rather than purely for greed or racism or religious zealotry or the quest for the control of oil) was World War II. So, yeah, we need those flags, man, or we can’t separate ourselves. Us vs. Them.

Flags are the ultimate symbol of polarization. Either you’re on our team or you’re not. And if you aren’t willing to play by the flag flyers’ rules, then get the hell out. Love it or leave it.

It’s very comforting to be a member of a group. You’re accepted. You’re part of the norm. You’re just like us.

But in order to form a group, you have to be willing to believe that all of your members feel the same way about things. And, hey, you’re a good person, right? So if everyone in your group is just like you, then you must be the good guys.

What does that say about those who are excluded from that group? They must be bad. That only makes sense.

And we (“we”) wonder why we can’t all just get along.

On the anniversary of 9/11, I saw a Facebook post that waxed nostalgic for 9/12. It talked about stores running out of flags to sell because they were being flown everywhere. It talked about us all being Americans before anything else. It talked about us being united.

I remember it quite differently. I remember fear and paranoia and confusion and anger. Yes, I remember flags everywhere. Flags defiantly flown. I remember people getting beat up if they looked the slightest bit Muslim. I remember my employer trying to force me to wear a flag pin, and feeling as though my livelihood would be threatened if I didn’t jump on the bandwagon. I remember not knowing what this angry, enormous mass of “we” was going to do.

That scared the hell out of me. It still does.

I don’t even like rooting for sports teams. I don’t like turning anyone into a them. The only “thems” in my life at the moment are Trump supporters. I don’t understand them. The level of hate they demonstrate terrifies me, because I know that to them, I’m the them.

http _orig06.deviantart.net_404b_f_2008_153_1_5_flags_of_the_world_by_condottiero
So many thems.

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Hive Mind

I don’t know about you, but I’m tired. I’m tired of thinking. I’m tired of trying to figure out what’s true and what’s not. I’m tired of worrying about what I can do to help fix this increasingly broken world of ours.

But the only other option is to let others do the thinking for me. Boy, is that tempting. It would be so easy to maintain a mental radio silence and just let other people handle everything. But I’m fairly certain that that trend is what got us into this mess in the first place.

Too many people have checked out. Or they’ve taken up full time residence in Facebook, the land that facts forgot. They certainly didn’t bother to vote. What could possibly go wrong? This. That’s what.

That, my friends, is called “hive mind”. Turn yourself into a drone. Just do your little job. Maintain your routine. Don’t look at the big picture. Don’t ask questions. Trust that the honey will be there when you need it.

Once you’re attuned to it, you see hive mind everywhere. It’s in paramilitary organizations, such as the police and ICE. We, as individuals, don’t have to have a moral compass when we’re just part of the hive. I’m a law abiding citizen, but it always rattles me to talk to cops. You can look into their eyes and see that they’re in the hive. Because of that, there’s no possible way for them to relate to me as an individual. And that’s scary.

The individuals who make up ICE were told not to let people off a domestic flight until they produced identification. They each knew it was wrong. But they were doing their job. And cops? Take ‘em out of the uniform, and they wouldn’t normally rough someone up, but this is a bad guy, and it’s for the greater good, right?

Lord knows hive mind is the essence of bureaucracies. When’s the last time you got a rational response out of AT&T? Employees in those places are discouraged from going off script, even when the script makes no sense whatsoever.

I hate to say it, but it’s also seen at sporting events. We good. You bad. Me Tarzan. And then we’re shocked when violence erupts. This is why I never got into sports.

Cults, of course, have hive mind down to a science. You are stripped of your individuality, deprived of information, isolated from family, and told what to think. It must feel quite liberating at first, like slipping into a nice warm bath. And then the water gets cold.

I used to lament having been born in the 60’s. It meant I was too young to participate in all the “really good” protests. My generation got to eat the fruit of all that labor without really having to work for it. Well, be careful what you wish for. Now, in my 50’s, I get to participate in activities that make my aching body wish I were 20 again.

I have to admit, though, that it feels like we are all starting to wake up. We may not like it, but you can only hit the snooze button so many times. Maybe Trump is the rock bottom we had to hit before we could rise up again.

Even toxic clouds have silver linings, it seems.

Macro Insects Bees Swarm

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Creative Expressions of Grief

I had the distinct honor of participating in a reception for The Healing Center the other day. It’s a grief support community here in Seattle that is a welcoming and safe place to express your feelings of loss. They have been wonderfully helpful and understanding to me.

The reception, which is held annually, is called Healing Hearts. It is an opportunity for people to show the creative ways they have of expressing their grief. I have to say, this is quite a talented crowd. There were poets and writers there, and singer/songwriters and musicians and photographers as well. I was really pleased to be included in their number.

I read two excerpts from my book, A Bridgetender’s View: Notes on Gratitude. Before the event, I was having trouble choosing which parts of the book to read, so I asked for feedback from some of the regular visitors to my Facebook group, The View from a Drawbridge. The entries we finally chose were I Am Not Who I Was Yesterday, and Scars.

My main takeaway from this event was that there are so many ways to express one’s emotions. In fact, that’s what art is, really: a way to reveal what is inside you. That’s why the arts are so vital to any healthy culture.

I truly believe that it’s very important to open yourself up. Your inner self needs to see the light of day in order to thrive. Things should not be bottled up, lest they fester. And that’s what communities like The Healing Center are all about.

If you are experiencing grief, you do not have to go through it alone. Seek out the equivalent of The Healing Center in your community.

grief-by-i_strad
Grief, by i_strad

Outgrowing

As a child, one of the hardest things for me was the experience of outgrowing things that I loved. Favorite sweaters. Child-sized furniture. Extremely sugary foods. Certain rides at the state fair. The kid’s menu at Howard Johnson’s.

No one likes change. And if I loved something, I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t love it forever. It fit me before. Why doesn’t it fit me now?

I actually still have one sweatshirt from elementary school. It’s hard for me to believe I was ever that small. I kept it sort of as a frame of reference. But if I had kept all my clothing and toys from childhood, my life would be full of wasted space. That would be tragic indeed.

Time marches on. And it seems that outgrowing things doesn’t stop even when you are fully grown. It’s just that the things you outgrow become more complex. Friendships. Philosophies. Political systems. Jobs. Vices. Groups.

There’s a certain rise and decay that formulates the circle of life. Just ask the Greeks and the Romans. Things and people and beliefs are solid for a time, but eventually they crumble to dust and are replaced by something else.

Recently I was kicked out of a group and for a hot second, there, it felt like the end of the world to me. A friend of mine suggested I keep attending anyway. They meet in a public place, after all. But I don’t want to do that. There are still many people I love there, and I don’t want to create tension and awkwardness for them. The wonderful feeling I got from being a part of that group is gone. There’s no resuscitating that. There’s a cancer at the core of the experience for which there is no cure.

And lo and behold, I am already discovering that the absence of that group is providing me with other intriguing opportunities. I’m already filling that time with other experiences, and meeting other people. Decay makes way for growth. The shit of life fertilizes the fruit.

I feel as though the country as a whole is experiencing this. Our government and our attitudes toward it are in a state of flux. It’s rather unsettling, trying to maintain one’s balance on these shifting sands. We resist the change and we mourn, but we will also be motivated to work toward bigger and better change, and from that, new and exciting things will surely flow.

The next time you sense that you are outgrowing something, remind yourself that you are just a tiny part of a much larger plane of existence. As Max Ehrmann once said, “No doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.”

universe

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