<Insert sound of fife and drum>
Does anyone else see a saluting soldier sporting a tricorn hat? Respect from above the treeline.
This day was formerly known as Armistice Day, marking the end of the "war to end all wars" back in 1918.
Writing Prompt –– Small Pieces
In all honesty, writing is terribly easy to avoid. Sometimes the dishes and the laundry seem more important.
For the past few weeks, I have been sewing a lot. And while I can rift on how quilting is like writing, I know it's really an elaborate avoidance mechanism for the Really Awful Stuff that is going down in the world of my goose-girl story.
But in light of that impulse to cut things up and sew them back together in a pleasing form, today's writing prompt takes some random words and puts them into a story pattern:
Random words: relation, requirement, region, role, reaction, revolution, ratio.
The pattern: (character+needs+action)
Everything looked tiny from the sky that time of day. The ratio of tree to shadow all out of proportion, as if the shadow had overthrown its role. She felt the idea take hold, that a revolution was rolling across the surface of the world. That long, branching shadow was just then throwing a tree into existence against the burning disk of sun.
The crackling of her headset recalled her to the reality of the chopper, the dry air and the dust, the possibility of light glinting off something lethal on the ground below her.
"Barnett! Two clicks!"
She nodded and took a deep, steadying breath. Without consulting the laminated instruction sheet clipped to the seat-back, she ticked off the safety requirements again. She snugged the buckles, threaded gloved fingers along the straps. This time, she swung her legs to the side and let her boots meet the skids.
"Barnett, I am counting in four, three, two ––" the horizon took a quarter turn, and she punched the release on her seatbelt. Gravity loaded as the chopper rose away from her. The chute deployed, and she bounced lightly in the harness in the middle of the air.
The toggles felt like reins, she thought, and the wing was like a horse racing downhill. Shit, she was flaking out. She was a target waiting to sighted. With an effort, she lined up a particular tan formation of rock with its own long shadow and urged the horses to gallop.
The gritty sand rose to meet her, and she landed running. Hustling the wing into the pack, she didn't spare a moment looking into the hills. She trotted up the narrow ravine for fifteen minutes, the only sound her boots and her own pulse like a snare drum in her ears.
Whoa. That's a surprise. Sometimes the scraps turn themselves into something unexpected.
I wonder if it's Afghanistan or Mars. Why is she solo? I may return to this one day, and I thank you for joining me in my rhetorical calisthenics.
I was tootling along in my innocuous Honda minivan, possibly singing, when my life flashed in front of my eyes.
As it does.
A montage of really good stuff, actually. Kind of like the Sports Center Highlights Reel, only the soundtrack wasn't great: just my own voice, repeating a filthy variant of "Oh, fiddlesticks!"
On a sunny morning on the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway, a late-model muscle-car –– a Shelby or a Mustang (my apologies for blasphemy to whatever car-guy still reading after three paragraphs) –– almost smoked his tires stopping by the side of the road ahead in the distance.
Flinging open his door, the driver jumped out and assumed a classic shooter's stance: dominant arm outstretched, holding, with the other supporting, legs square, eye to the sight. The tiny, deadly, dark circle of muzzle pointing at me.
It's a testimony to hundreds of thousands of years of evolution that adrenaline hits the system quicker than the brain can process the need for it. I was already ducking a little (as if my steering wheel would offer any real cover!) before the thought of how fiddlestickingly stupid this was as a way to go: death by sniper.
Adrenaline grants the sensation of time dilation. My irritability about gun culture was accompanied almost simultaneously by a fleeting regret about the very LONG list of things left that I'd hoped to accomplish. And the lightning-flash reel of life highlights.
And then, quicker than a blink, I processed the shooter's details: a fit man in a tan uniform, sunglasses hiding half of his dark face, the light shining off what I really, really hoped was a lawman's badge. I hoped that he wasn't a man in the grips of mental illness, uniform or no. And then, the last thing I recognized: the hair-dryer shape of a radar gun.
Half of South Tampa passed before my heart stopped racing like a rabbit.
File Under: Tiny Surprises
Doing some sailing recently on a fresh-water lake in the center of Florida, I looked over the side of the boat and saw this. A pattern in the water that looked like a little flower or a shooting star, or the rowel from the heel of a cowboy. A rowel that had rolled across sand, perhaps flung from a bucking bronc.
It's a gap in the algae bloom, the image formed from a droplet of water flung from the dock-line. A tiny bit of current moved water around the reed to make the curved line. It's a painting. A scar. A kind of photo negative. A tiny surprise on the surface of the world.
Most of the time, trees look like trees and in general, logs look like logs. But sometimes, a surprise waits in the woods.
Things happen within the trees. Stuff is alive.
Once in a while, even when the wood is out of the woods, there's a surprise lingering after the fire or the cutting blade. A charred fish.
The phantom of a horse in the heart of an apple tree. A monster in the stump of a honeysuckle bush.
And some make their way into houses, like this tiny cat that laughed at the camera from a piece of old decking.
The biscuits I made were used as pucks in a hallway floor-hockey pickup session. And they made it undented all the way back to study-hall. A proud moment for me then as I was determined NOT to buy into the traditional gender-role responsibilities of home and hearth.
But later –– a decade or more later –– a friend patiently showed me how to sew a straight line without attaching my hand to the fabric. Later, my sweet mother-in-law took me under her domestic wing, providing a sewing machine and some gentle tutelage. The language came to me slowly, with nothing meaning what I first thought: basting, batting, bearding, blocking, backing, taking a tack (plus bar-tacking!).
I am not particularly interested in the frilly toothpick part of making a quilt. Instead, I like the part known as piecework (not the same as a union-organizer's "piecework," oddly enough) where a person gets to pick colors and figure out designs.
Despite this u-turn toward the domestic arts, I didn't budget much time for the hobby: the first quilts I made took ten years start to finish.
Such is the mystery of human nature: when faced with a big writing project a couple of years ago, I took up a couple of ambitious sewing projects. Why not an outdoorsy hobby instead? In a word: summer in Florida. In a word: heat-stroke. In a word: avoidance.
Anyway, the quilt –– among other projects, o novel of mine! –– has been lurking around unbound. So I sat myself down this summer and started stitching. I achieved closure in roughly the same couch-time as four World Cup matches.
If only a bit of red thread and attention could stitch shut all the open doors in my life...
"Doesn't it seem like things are smiling at you?" Sanj asked me.
We were sharing a table, studying at the library. It was freshman year at college, and people did grow strange at midterm. But he was sincere and seemingly both hinged and balanced.
At my expression, Sanj jabbed a finger at the chrome pencil sharpener. "See? It's curved. Like it's cheerful. Like it's smiling."
And it did look cheerful. Another time, Sanj traced the happy curve of the heavy food-service dish and held up the polished metal bowl of a serving spoon in place of his own smile. From the opposite side of a lecture hall, he'd point out the joyful bend in the face of a clock or the goofy grin made by crooked window-shades.
From time to time, when I spot an unlikely smile, I think of him and hope that he still sees smiles all around.
Advice from nearby
I was dreaming the other night about doing various lawn chores naked. It was not an anxiety or shame-filled dream -- I had a lot to get done and being naked was not the central issue. But there was a point where someone said, “Hey, let’s take it inside. Not everybody needs to see this.”
I take this as a fairly clear message from my subconscious. Just a little reminder about having a bit of decorum and some reasonable boundaries.
I think because my father was prone to offering cryptic statements in lieu of actual advice -- when I learned about the prophetic sibyls of ancient Greece, I felt a zing of recognition -- it's second nature to translate this message into suggestions to live by.
For instance, tidy the yard, but don't make the neighbors suffer.
Or, maybe: attend to that mountain of chores (the weed-whacking and hedge-trimming of a big story, for example), by all means, but (and this is something I snarl in general impatience) keep your damn pants on!
About the Blog
A lot of ground gets covered on this blog -- from sailboat racing to book suggestions to plain old piffle.
Trying to keep track? Follow me on Facebook or Twitter or if you use an aggregator, click the RSS option below.
Old school? Sign up for the newsletter and I'll shoot you a short e-mail when there's something new.