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Archive for June, 2012

|| June 26, 2012 || 11:11 am || Comments (1) ||

Wisdom’s Ways

In rehab at a nursing home

Margaret from Kenya is washing my hair.
She is laughing and talking.
Her sounds are music
That makes me dance in my soul.

Margaret from Kenya is scrubbing my scalp
With her competent hands as she tells me
Her children are grown and no longer need her.
It’s time for her to move on.

Margaret from Kenya is washing my body.
Time for me to give back to society,
Time for my second life
, she says.
At 55 she’ll be a nurse soon.

She’ll go to Africa to be with children with AIDS.
This is what I want to do most,
To help the children have a little happiness
And peace before they die

Margaret from Kenya is rinsing my body.
If I can look back at the end of the day, she says.
And see that I’ve made one person happy
I myself am happy. I am complete

She kept a journal when she was young.
I called it Wisdom’s Ways. The words weren’t mine.
They came to me and I wrote them down
Then her brother destroyed her journal.
She never wrote again.

But wisdom’s words still come to Margaret.
Wisdom’s ways still guide her life.
She knows well that giving is receiving.
That life without love is joyless and bleak
In this place all warmth and water
Margaret is telling her story.

// Margaret Robison

|| June 21, 2012 || 6:29 pm || Comments (16) ||

You sit down to write, an average day. You are drinking your customary thirty-two ounces of First Thing In The Morning water. (“Have you ever seen how quickly it perks a drooping plant? Think, then, on what it must do for the the more complex human body!”)

It’s just like it is supposed to be until it isn’t. That happens around one o’clock.

You fight until three, struggling to do in thirty minutes what you usually can in ten.

Your ridiculous sleep patterns maybe are harder on your brain now than when you were seven or seventeen or twenty-seven. You think a nap will help.

It doesn’t.

Your husband comes home from the road. He sees you and knows it is not physical. After you trade facts and observations about your days apart he says, gently, “I’ll cook dinner tonight so you can finish working.” You are grateful for a spouse who knows you are fighting, fighting and doesn’t make you fight him, too.

“Maybe this is me moving toward menopause?” you say, facing the wall, fingers tracing the branches of iron. (We can sleep in a tree bed every night! A tree bed! Imagine! you said excitedly to your husband upon finding it) “Maybe I’m not mentally ill.” You can’t look at anyone while you are saying it, not even him.

“It probably is.”
“It’s time to take some meds, I guess.”
“How long has it been?”
“Iunno? Four months. Thereabouts.”
“Well, get them in you, so they can start grabbing hold. Man, I love you.” Squeeze. Warmth. Safe places have elbows that jut outward for your protection.
“I know. I love you, too.”

He leaves. You dry swallow ten milligrams of Maybe.

You blurt, “I am written on the pages that nobody wants to see.” This is not some slog of self-pity and woe-is-me. It is what your brain is sending into every part of your being. Despite someone just looking into your face three minutes prior and saying I love you with emphasis, your brain tells you that you are written on the pages that nobody wants to see.

Today, today, even though you don’t mean to,  you are believing it.

“Drinkin’. Writin’.
Keepin’ stereotypes alive.”

// my friend TwoBusy, late yesterday evening

Sometimes when I am in the studio my Memaw Susie’s voice kind of melds with mine and before I know it there’s this strange hybrid of the two of us saying things like “Now. How can we go about effectively dandying this up?” all up in my head. This is while I’m turning something special –a porcelain hand, a business journal dated sometime in nineteen-nineteen, a length of rusty-and-twisted wire– over with my fingertips.

There are so many things up there in my escape room (a plain-yet-apt name) that lay there humming. Some chance to sing when I pick them up; this is how I decide what I’ll keep pulled out so that I can stare at it loudly and expect something to happen. My fingertips listen for the want(s) of the thing, trying to decipher if it will be the focal point of something whose elements have yet to be drawn together and arranged or if it will be used to subtly pull the eye toward some other highlight altogether.

Two broken wall hooks, a cigar box, a heavy brass mail door (with! keys! hallelujah!) sidle up to one another and become a sweet treasure box that is pretending to be art. An old eight-by-ten of a stoic group, snippets of text from various magazines and newspapers, a castaway picture frame all jostle and slide until there is poetry: a free-form mishmosh amalgamation of philosophy gleaned from this dying age we’re trying to pass off as all hopeful rather than incredulous.

all at once and without contradiction

Tonight, while straightening then cutting lengths of baling wire, I marveled once again at the greasy black-smoke condition of my palms, the mark of handling raw material and manhandling it with purpose. It put me in mind of photographs from my father’s creakingly heavy album, the one that catalogs his time in country. Cinched up between its covers are faces and faces and faces of young men with smoke and sweat and trouble smeared all across them. That, or freshly-scrubbed and thick with drunkenness, no trace of a uniform in sight, arms crooked about the necks of a variety of little Vietnamese women, so dainty.

I am not particularly a student of history, but I like for the things around me to allude to having a story that is ready to be conveyed. There is richness in this, in having a story, and I sometimes I am struck by how many options we are afforded in order to get that story across.

People e-mail me on the fair regular with snippets of this or that, wanting my take on something. I give it to them (sometimes it takes a minute, but I try to accommodate). We all have something to give and we all have something to take, right? “Give enough so that the amount of your taking isn’t bastardy, and then give ten more percent on top of that.” is one of my life mottoes. There are others; we may or may not get around to talking about them sometime.

Sometimes people e-mail me and ask my advice on telling a story. WHAT??!? You might as well ask me how to blink.

“Just, um, do it.”

That seems glib and haughty, though, right? Right. So I never give complete answers, just disjointed approximations of tips and a virtual neck-hug before I send the soul foolish enough to ask me, of all people, back out into the world. How am I a suitable candidate for teaching anyone a dang thing?

While I was at my father’s, attending to the Mathematics of Cancer (now THAT is an almost-complete other post for another time altogether), the mechanics of telling a story came together and I wrote them down on the back of a receipt from a convenience store gas station deli combo joint: Its name, hysterically enough, is ‘Kum & Go’. It’s printed right there on the receipt that contains my Big Ideas About Storytelling. The Universe will always find a way to keep you humble, there Shotgun.

The list has five points on it. They are, exactly as I first penned them on the back of that now-crinkled receipt, as follows:

I want you to listen to their stories.

I want you to listen to how they tell their stories.

I want you to pay attention to the language.

I want you to find the song in their stories.

Breathe life to that song.

That’s it. That’s what I’ve got. So either you learn to pay attention to several different aspects of an experience, or you learn to take a pass or five at it after it’s up there in your Rememberator so that you can squeeze all the juice out of it.

One thing, though….I was in such a hurry to get those handy-dandy tips down that I left out an obvious preface: Go into the world and find people. Interact with them in some way….actively, passively, whatever; I don’t give a shit about the niggling details. Then you are ready to move on to Point the First.

And then (this here is the fun bit)  you are ready to hear, “Now. How can we go about effectively dandying this up?”

::: :: ::: :: ::: :: :::

This looks incredible. Hollywood is trying to get better and tell stories worthy of this world, I think. God bless the writers, every messy last one of us.

|| June 16, 2012 || 11:10 pm || Comments (5) ||

A few years back, my life was in a state that could best be described as ‘high and dry’.

As I started regaining myself, I met a man who was drunk and kind and whose smile had this ridiculous mix of boyishness and let-me-show-you-what-can-happen. We waved hello and goodbye at parties, we played cards at crowded tables heavy with cigarette smoke and laughing drawls. It did not occur to me to date him until one night he said to me, “The next time I see you I’ll be taking you home with me.”

There was a lot of whiskey involved. When I told him of this later –the third or fourth time we slept together, maybe– he sheeted crimson and I shook my head, holding my amusement in check. A smile leaked past my lips but what I really wanted to do was laugh so hard that it shook one of us out of that bed.

We dated for a good while. He had a fair amount of change in his bank account, but we did simple things: We went shooting, we made runs into Georgia for scratch-offs and forties and just for the simple satisfaction of riding some back roads, listening to some good music.

There came a day when he turned to me and said, “Babedoll,

(yes he said babedoll in a way that no fancy movie cowboy will ever, ever be able to nail)

“you like to shoot pool?”

Well do I ever, sir: I owned a pool cue when I was just about chest-high to a table and I wish my dad would have taken me and my sister to a pool hall and hustled the shit out of the patrons with two little toothless ruthless billiard-rounding towheads. Alas, he did not, and we had to satisfy our  competitive natures sharking the neighborhood boys who hadn’t got the memo yet (it was forthcoming; this was the late seventies in rural middle America) that Sisters Are Fucking Doing It For Themselves.

“I do indeed enjoy a game or two on the now and again.”

People, I had been such a billiards dork between the ages of seven and twelve that I watched televised matches whenever one was aired.

I found myself being escorted into the local pool hall, which –despite its existence smack dab in the middle of the main street in town– I hadn’t known was there. It was, ah….stealthy and low-key on the outside, but inside was the magic of wide industrial windows facing an alley at the back and high, high tin ceilings. This place had always been a gathering spot and never wanted to be anything else; you could tell.

So we lined up healthy stacks of quarters and played and played; I was the only woman in the place and I was treated well, with respect and deference. At one point we noticed the group of men that had been occupying the other tables were loosely gathered around a television in one corner of the room. We made our way toward them; the televison was older, with rabbit ears and flip dials. It rested on a metal teevee tray, but nobody seemed to be worried that it would tip its perch and explode upon impact with the concrete floor. A flat metal stool that stood nearby held a cup and an ashtray.

The fellas were watching ‘Jeopardy’, flipping quarters into the cup between questions. Trebek would read the answer, and the first person to roll out the correct question won the pot. They were playing with two cups, so that each time a quarter-heavy one was pulled, an empty was put back onto the stool. The game had a rhythm, a frankness, a confidence that was exciting. The cowboy and I hung back at the edge of the group, taking in the scene. Thing about him, well…he was a gambler. He was so good that he likely could have made a living at it.

As we watched, I shot out questions under my breath, knowing ninety percent of them and beating everyone in the room. I was wearing the cowboy’s leather coat, the cuffs of it skimming down around my knuckles. I tapped the tips of my fingers against them when I issued a correct question; I can still feel them rat-tat-tatting, the index and ring fingers of each hand, but mostly my overexcited right. The cowboy began to move his eyes from the television to me and back again, quietly running the numbers in his head.

A week later we went back; in his jacket were two pocketfuls of quarters and Jeopardy started at six on the money.  We steered to our previous position; my job was to roll out responses and his job was to pull the cup. Over and over, glory hallelujah, he pulled that cup as I calmly navigated the rounds. My voice was clear and measured where the week before it had been tucked into my chest. I’d had most all the questions. I just hadn’t been speaking them loudly enough to be a competitor.

At the end of the episode, I was given a civil nod from the other players and we found an old Folger’s can to hold what our pockets wouldn’t. We sat later at the kitchen table, rolling and counting. When we were done, he pushed the winnings toward me.

“My God, woman, that was one of the best things I’ve ever witnessed. That was one fuck of a lotta fun.” I bit my lip, because my mouth was threatening to melt off with all the smiling, all the smiling.

I feel something happening. Don’t ask me to go into details, because hell if I know that bit.

It occurs to me, though, that I’ve known a fair share of what I’ve needed to all along, and I have been speaking it low and to myself, getting a feel for the rhythm of the game. I’m pretty sure that I’m about to start speaking up and out, pulling quarters and having a fine time.

I feel real, real good about that business.