Thursday, July 28, 2011

Witness Protection

Sometimes I just want to go in to hiding...
and come out as someone else.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Gimme Fiction: Wedding

Her dress was of cheap muslin meant to be white, but so coarse it had adopted a jaundiced pallor nearly matching the all over sprinkling of dusty pale sprigs of once-upon-a-time colors of pink and yellow and green- a cheesecloth meadow. Her legs and arms, lightly tanned were bare save for freckles. The thought of air tripping along the gold-brown polka-dots caused a shiver in him. He wondered if he ought to have offered money for stockings.

Above the ample shelf of her bosom her powdered immigrant face smiled broad and flat amid a nimbus of hair the precise shade of a milk pumpkin freshly rent from it‘s umbilical vine. For a moment he thought he could smell the mildewed flesh, see the concave withering shell as it fell in on itself, age distorting it‘s form. His eyes drifted heavenward as his stomach began to churn.

Batting his eyelids against the heat of the afternoon sun he ran his hand through the short shorn dark fluff the army had accustomed him to. Beads of sweat were gathering at his temples like dew on grass. His hand fell away, tacky and tremulous. Soon the office would reopen.

Toward the rear of the car an excited chatter progressed. Veda and Augusta. The two women leaned against the bulging fender fanning themselves with floppy straw hats, gossiping just as if it were any other day. At his elbow, Lidell wheezed, a low whistling tunefully broadcasting from his ill-fitting dentures. “We’re in for it,” the older man offered.

Nodding agreement on the concise weather forecast but with secrets stowed deep in his chest that led his thoughts other directions, he almost smiled. Almost yelled. Almost ran, as they said, for the hills. Almost prayed to the, in his experience, unhearing God up above beyond the great burning blue sky, the gaseous sun, the frigid stars. He ground his molars with such force he thought he might permanently realign his jaw.

At last the man came, parking his faded black car, walking in the leisurely southern style across sidewalk, up steps, fumbling with keys at the door. “C’mon in, folks.” He grinned, magnanimous, comfortable, sagacious.

In gilt even letters, traced and painted with a nimble hand, an inner door read, Ernest K. Floyd, Justice of the Peace. Beyond this door was a room at once dull and bright- not festooned with even a shred of those items which sang of matrimony, no flowers or crepe paper, no rice, unless it was secreted in some drawer or cabinet- but aglow in premonitory light and heat from the bank of windows on one side. The jovial J.P. wedged himself behind a desk, pulling out ledger and receipt books. “Who’s for it, then?”

Augusta blushed, Lidell emitted a chuckle that could have passed for the beginning of a bronchial fit, both backing slightly to the rear. Firm, unembarrassed, Veda stepped up, her chubby dry fingers grasping her fiancé’s wrist as she went. He stood mute beside her as she rattled off answers that Ernest K. Floyd diligently copied down in the ledger.

Again his mind insisted on wandering. He thought of his wanting childhood, the dank gray nights of the war, the muddy shell-shocked days, the heady welcoming return, the utter quiet and blank faces as he tried to find employment, the distracting, boisterous presence of the woman beside him, ready to take him up, believing in her heart that she was doing him the favor, saving the lanky former private from a future of unwomaned loneliness.

In profile he looked at her full coral painted lips, thick soft shoulder, balloon breast beginning to perspire through over-taxed brassiere and off-white dress. His eyes strayed to her stomach, where he imagined he could see the flesh move, grow taught and begin to tear as the outline of a toe formed a hill that pushed out against stomach and dress, threatening to kick it’s way out of the womb.

The time had come. He took his place beside her, repeated the ritual words without a stumble, kissed the rough mouth offered to him which tasted of mint and chicory, felt a hand good-naturedly slap his back and told himself he’d kill her in her sleep if the baby that wasn’t his came out colored.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Study in Pink

Those who know me may have noted that from time to time, I exhibit some behaviors that lean a bit toward the OCD side. As I’ve never been officially diagnosed, who’s to say whether I’m afflicted or not (checking that the front door is locked every time I pass it by is not definitive proof!), but I can say that I tend to get really, really excited and involved in things that manage to attract my attention, to the point where I must collect or attend or spend time (read countless hours) on the internet researching (read stalking) certain people or bands or films or shows or countries or objects.

This may simply be part of my character. Or it may be due to a frequent, recurring boredom which I have no clear concept of how to appease. I’m always seeking the next thing to engage me, mind body and soul. Thank God this is a cluttered world with many distractions to...well, distract me.

In the most oblique way I am trying to tell you about my weekend. Obsession comes in to it because I do what may be construed as silly things as a result of my various infatuations. For instance, I drove to Boulder again this weekend, Saturday and Sunday nights both, to see Third Star. That brings the tally up to three times for anyone keeping score. Three times and 132 miles. For a movie. By myself.

Did I mention that I also cut my best friend short on the phone, practically hanging up on her to make sure I got to the 7:00 pm show on Sunday? She understands a thing or two about obsessive behavior, so I don’t think she was too offended.

On the rare occasion, my obsessions are slightly more fruitful. I love art and design. In fact I spend a lot of time daydreaming about décor, most of which I can neither find (Why, oh why can’t I find the sofa in my head?) nor afford. Out of desperation, this weekend I finally made a piece of my own.

Now, it’s nothing remarkably artistic, but darned if I don’t just love a well-executed (the pun was not originally intended, I promise) representation of an anatomical human skull. I wish I could draw one. Instead I robbed the internet and put my photo editing software to playful work. The hue and repetition of the design give it a street-art sort of vibe, don’t you think?

All right, I’m grasping, but still I have something to show for this weekend as opposed to the usual vague sense of defeat. And it’ll be sort of cheerful, all those rosy macabre grins staring out at me every day. A Study In Pink, if you will (blatant nod to Sherlock, there). Goodness knows we can all use a smile.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Review: Third Star

Adrift as I am already with conflicting ideas and emotions, reviewing Third Star is no effortless task. To begin with, it is not an easy movie to recommend and certainly isn’t one you are likely to see in your local multiplex. For the average movie-goer it is probably too difficult- it has quiet gaps, no true action sequences, hardly any slapstick shenanigans, the characters talk over one another’s lines (in accents, no less) and there is no display of romantic attachment. However, if you take the plunge, if you care to look beyond glam and effects and cheap laughs, if you can stand to slow your pace to consider what life is about, this film will arrest you. It is an artistic endeavor full of beauty and humanity, of grace and friendship, silliness and frailty. It also has some laugh out loud moments.

On its face, it is the simple story of a terminally ill young man (exquisitely acted by Benedict Cumberbatch) who wants to go on one last camping expedition with his best friends (JJ Field, Tom Burke and Adam Robertson) to visit his favorite place. To get there, they wander the sometimes precarious terrain of West Wales and their own disillusioned lives. Adventures, spats, humor and acceptance ensue.

At it's heart, Third Star is a mediation on the choices we make, the time we spend, the things we are willing to do for the people we hold dear.

Knowing the premise, I fully expected to cry and was prepared to do so, tissues neatly tucked in the outer pocket of my purse, and some viewers I'm sure will be moved to tears in their seats, but I found the film too well crafted to elicit an instant reaction. The emotional heft of the story is too subtle and touches a more profound place than can be examined within the 92 minutes of a single viewing. Nearly 24 hours later, I am still attempting to catalog the thoughts and feelings that it's left me with (almost as though I’m going through the five stages of grief) and I feel the tears may yet come.

I watched Third Star in the tiny 50-ish person Boedecker Theater in Boulder, Colorado. Surrounding me were vociferous veterans of independent film viewing who laughed and gasped and responded accordingly to all that was being shared with them during the showing and yet, when the screen went black and the lights slowly rose, there wasn’t so much as a murmur. Instead there was the silence of impact, of people affected. It was a privilege to experience that in a modern cinema.

In May, due to it’s small opening, the production company initiated a project called “Third Star Adventures” to encourage people to share the journeys they’d made in order to see the film. Some people crossed borders, some traveled to different countries, all seemed to come away with an impression, a stirring of emotion. They felt they’d had an experience. I only had to drive 22 miles (in 90 degree weather without an air conditioner) down the highway for the opportunity, and I can’t help but feel that a new journey is just beginning for me as a result.

That, I think is where the beauty of this film lies- in it’s quiet and genuine reflection of human experience. We can all relate to that, can’t we?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


I was watching CNBC last night, a documentary called Walt: The Man Behind the Myth, when I heard a term I’ve heard before, but which, during this two otherwise vacant hours resonated with me as it hadn’t before. You Disneyphiles know it. I’m sure you can hear Walt’s warm Midwestern twang uttering it as you read this- “Plus it.” For the uninitiated “plussing” refers to tweaking or adding to an idea, a project, a gag, a piece of art until it is more than you originally conceived it could be- to make something better as opposed to settling for good enough.

As I say, I’m not unfamiliar with the term and while I was watching the show, marveling, really at the inventiveness, the fearlessness, the almost intuitive genius of Walt Disney, the repetition throughout of his special way of asking for more seemed to my suggestion-prone mind to be an edict directed at me.

There you have it. I am so far gone I think I’m receiving messages via bio-docs about deceased entrepreneurs. And what’s wrong with that? You have to take inspiration from wherever it may come.

Anyway, I’m watching and I’m emotional knowing how the story ends and my brain is ticking away, grappling with the mundanity (yes, it’s a real word) of my current situation and I can’t help but ask myself- How can you “plus” your life?

This is not a new question for me, or indeed for many people I know, but the amended phrasing somehow feels as though it might help me gain focus and come at the issue from a different tack. “Plussing” sounds much more creative than “changing“, doesn’t it?

I suppose you infer from my complaining that I have the dullest life imaginable. Not so. I travel, I spend a fair amount of time with people I love and esteem, I’ve volunteered, I work, I plan, I live, yet something is missing. I’ve lost wonder, I think, or rather the ability to find it and share it.

There’s a journey I need to make it seems, to find the thing that eludes me or at least to name it and learn its substitute if I’m not allowed to keep it for my own. Therefore, without a set plan, but with dangerous good intentions and instead of sleeping through the alarm that’s droned on so long my brain has numbed to it’s infernal buzzing, I’m taking action, putting out that first step Lao Tzu went on about. I’m going to try to find the “plus”.

I’m starting with small things, things without that debilitating word “change” attached, things that make me feel I’m progressing in a direction- any direction at all instead of standing still. Last night for instance, I “plussed” my fingernails. They are now a glossy taupe/gray. Tomorrow night I may take in a movie with my bestie(On a school night, by George!) thereby "plussing" a Wednesday night. I know, I'm horribly adulterating the term, but whatever it takes, people! No judgments, please.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Gimme Fiction: Snippet

Some things are anecdotes, some stories, some poems, some nearly novellas; others are merely pieces- seeds of ideas, possibly even darlings that need murdered in order to get on with the telling of a tale- the expression of a fuller idea. The post below I'm calling a snippet. It may or may not have relevance. It may never be more than it's current incarnation of a few heavy lines, but the words came and wanted bringing out, so out it comes.

The down in the pillows congested her, but he failed to note it. Daily he glowed- a boy reborn, renewed, rambunctious, pretending that rusticity suited him, while she rejoined in placating mumbles with vacuous comments about the hue of the flowers, the briskness of the air. Nightly he took out his joy in labored middle-aged thrusts on the unresponsive flesh of her ambiguous form, she watching the sallow ceiling, wavering shadows insinuating the forms of leaves and warriors and gremlins on it’s flat water-stained surface. She could almost dismiss the heavy presence of his grunting as her eyes explored the muddy contours of the ceiling’s chimeras, thinking of an alternate life.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Chicken Express

This past weekend was a full plate for me. I attended two whole events! The first was a pre-fourth cookout with friends and family of friends. The second was a casual family wedding. At the former, I felt comfortable and composed as if I had a purpose and a place, a people with whom I belonged. This shindig bucked me up, in fact and left me with the impression that my next event would be easier than I was anticipating.

Oh silly, fleeting confidence.

The wedding was to take place out of state, so my brother and I set out at an inhumanly early hour to get to the airport and on to our final destination (the pic above may give you a clue as to where we went.). I’d love to blame exhaustion for the remainder of that day, but I think we all know the truth. From the moment we reached the airport I watched my brother sparkle and shine, entertaining all and sundry with caustic ribbing and educated (if slightly supercilious) opinions, while I, like a timid kitten, cowered wherever I was least likely to be noticed.

I don’t mean to imply I never spoke- I absolutely did- when expressly spoken to. This shouldn’t reflect on the company surrounding me- they could not have been friendlier. No, the problem was (and is) me. I don’t seem to know how to interact accordingly, you know, like an actual human being. Whenever conversation is broached my brain freezes up, panics and allows my tongue to respond only with succinct (often monosyllabic) sentences, devoid of embellishment. Poor tongue! As a result, people find me cold and move on quickly. I survived the day, but couldn’t help coming away feeling superfluous to the proceedings.

Because of my social ineptitude, I’ve returned from my travels apathetic and distant, choosing to languish in the doldrums, Fleet Foxes, Born Ruffians and LCD Soundsystem providing the soundtrack to my blahs, a trusty bag of M&Ms within easy reach. (I suppose if I’m an alien my candy of choice ought to be Reese’s Pieces, but it wouldn’t be compulsive behavior if it made any sense.)

A smile or two have managed to cross my features these past few days, so I’d like to take a moment to give credit to those responsible:

To Matt and Michaela for being so nice about this here blog;
To Sheri for not being too annoyed by my continuous poking;
To Benedict Cumberbatch for adopting the most fantastic and absurdly awful fake French accent;
And to Susan for being able to take a joke.

Happy Thursday, kids!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Gimme Fiction: Interment

The thanks go by like pollen on a breeze, acknowledge only by a few whom, like allergy sufferers, are reflexively responsive. The remainder mull about, secretly wondering when manners will allow them their exodus to less selfless circumstances. Obliging disquiet flits through the room, grazing shoulders in haste as it searches for a candidate to shout “Goose!” at. The most probable nominee is Peter’s Aunt Hildy. With a lacquered surface, all gleaming black from pillbox hat to orthopedic shoes, she seems ready to rain tears and shatter eardrums if the opportunity presents itself. I suspect all she needs do is see me to let loose the floodgate.

I sidle back beyond the white beveled beam of the doorjamb. In a corner Gladys is fighting against rage and her four-year old mewling boy whose only awareness revolves around the procurement of sugar-laden goodies from the tauntingly overburdened table in the dining room. A sigh trembles from my chest as I commiserate with his honest, simple longing. I wish I could fill a plate and put it in his chubby hands.

Instead, I retreat further, turn a corner in to another room, seeking space. Contrary to accepted practice, a house full of people is no refuge for the mourning. Noise seems just to amplify the loss of the one person with whom you found peace; bodies standing stiff as corpses in solidarity reminding you that you stand alone.

Suffocating, stifled, I think “A breath of air,” and wander slyly out back to the kitchen, speculating that the door there may be unguarded. No such luck. Jon stands sentry, or seems to, though his hands are immersed in the flow from the tap and the rush of water should deafen his ears. Still he heeds, senses and pivots on loafered heels toward my hunch-backed cowardice.

His relaxed posture intimidates me, butt up against the counter edge, clammy hands wringing dry against a square of daisy-spotted cotton. A murmur of iron and soap tickles my nose hairs. We’ve never been close, this cousin and I, and now he means to be kind. I offer a short smile, chagrin tattooed on its surface.

“Need a break, huh?”

I nod slowly unwilling to speak, afraid to betray the gurgling lump clogging my airway. My eyesight trails along as he tosses the dishrag to the counter. Every small thing seems to captivate me today. My vision drifts back to find an opposite watchful gaze.

The withered skin on my lips is suddenly a treasure- a welcome distraction to grind between teeth, to chew and rip asunder the translucent flakes from the tender flesh below. I gnaw deliberately so as not to draw blood. More concern I don’t need.

Across the way, Jon shoves his hands in his pockets as though intent to ride out the duration of my silent stay, as though he intends to speak his mind. Desperate to convey that nothing needs to be said, I move toward him, put my hand out to pull open the cabinet nearest his head to retrieve a glass. I feel my muscles, my tendons, my skin tense so close to the warmth of another body whose focus is so deliberately upon me. With a blank mind I regulate my breathing, fill the glass with water and drink.

Jon shifts very little, his brown gaze shadowing my gestures. Out the window a lean Manx cat, the neighborhood scavenger stalks through the overgrown yellow lawn. I imagine I can feel the crunchy wheaten shafts cracking underfoot, scratching my legs. Casually I itch at the area behind my ear.

It’s only moments, a handful of seconds for all of this, but it feels like it drags on. I don’t know what to do to break the onslaught of dawdling time. Behind us at the passage to the dining room, a creak and the nervous clearing of a throat. “Jon. Oh, I hope I’m not interrupting, Sara. Um, Jon, I could use some help with the cooler. Its leaking all over the porch.”

“Marjorie, there are at least half a dozen people out there you could ask to help, so why don’t you go back out there and do that?” I can feel Jon’s head jut significantly in my direction. I look over in time to see Marjorie’s face disappear with an huffy frown.

"You shouldn't speak to her I like that," I remonstrate.

“She’s forever butting in.”

My chin dips to my collarbone and I set the glass in the sink. "That’s what family is for, I guess. You’re standing around here waiting your chance to butt in, aren’t you?”

Jon grins smugly. "The circumstances are a little different. I thought you might want to talk to someone.”

“No, not really,” I answer as frostily as I can.

He propels himself out of his recline, but leans in at my shoulder. The tarry fumes of myriad burned out cigarettes linger on his moist breath. “You can’t shut out everyone.”

“I don’t have to let them all in, either,” I think. Outwardly I glare, daring him with arched brow to continue his sermon. Overawed, or more likely bored, Jon shuffles through the door without another word. I don’t know whether to spit or yell or take up the glass from the sink and throw it at the wall. I clench my jaw and suck in at my teeth.

It’s then that the tears seem most imminent, burning to spill and expose the deep lamentations echoing in the hole of my heart. All day the numb ache has been disguising the seeping memories but the hurt has grown so vast as to burst my chest. Like a novice drunk I hunch over the sink, arms at prayer, shoulders convulsing, ready to spew forth whatever it takes to feel well again.

The counter’s edge bites in to my elbows. As I rock back and forth the burnished steel of the sink sends flashes of ice along my forearms when my skin meets its lip. I try and I try. I grant subconscious permission for the volcano to erupt, but all that comes is a drizzle from my eyes, a miniature river of snot from my flat short nose.

Throwing the glass would have been better, I convince myself. So that’s what I do. With all the ferocity, the bitter useless anger that I can muster I hurl the thing at the wall. There’s a loud bonk, a crash, a splintering sound like shivering bells.

Through the doors they all file in, exclaiming. Peter’s Aunt Hildy goes wild, releasing all the noises and floods that I cannot. Hands and arms fly to her form, to placate, to console. She is inconsolable. Disgusted, I simply shake my head.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Mad Dreams

Finally it’s happened! Last night I got the call from Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. All afternoon the office had been awash with excited whispering and I couldn’t help but notice people passing by my desk giving me knowing little grins. “Courtney’ll be next!” I heard at some point; and then the phone rang.

I was in such an agitated state by then that I could barely speak. When I tried to say my name a broken, petrified squeak was all that would come. Fortunately, Mr. Sterling didn’t let my momentary laryngitis keep him from asking the question or acknowledging my acceptance of the offer. As I hung up the receiver a remarkable satisfaction welled up inside of me.

And then I woke up, the gray of early morning clouding my bedroom, the sheets softly rustling as I grimaced, stretched and tried to focus, thinking all the while, “What the hell was that?!?”

Sure, I’ve been known to watch Mad Men from time to time, but apparently it has left more of a lasting impression than I’d realized. I had absolutely no idea I was interested in working for an ad agency, much less one set in the 60’s and run by chauvinistic womanizers who couldn’t get through a day without the nuanced caretaking of the women they take for granted.

Clearly my subconscious is trying to tell me something. Do I have deeply hidden aspirations to be on a television show? Is my desire to be a person of merit so strong that it’s manifested itself in random dreams? Or do I really dig the fashions of the early 60’s and wish I could get away with wearing them?

So many possibilities, yet so few answers.

There is also the strong possibility that it’s just been too hot at night and it’s messing with my head. I love summer! Don’t you?

Friday, July 1, 2011

Writer's Block

Yeah, I know. A few days in and already I don’t know what to write about. Despite the relative anonymity of a thing like a blog, there is still a persistent, naggy voice in the back of my mind yelling “Don’t do anything to make yourself look stupid.” So then I’m stymied. Most of my life has been colored by this negative voice and as a result I’ve kept myself restrained, safe, bored.

Every once in a while I’ve cast off my inhibitions, but only just. I’ve traveled to London alone on a whim, expressly to see a play, but I’m too intimidated to walk in to the local donut shop. Likewise I’ve crossed state lines to see a particular band perform, screamed and yelled and danced, asked for autographs and pictures, commiserated with strangers at a gig, yet I have difficulty finding things to say to my coworkers. I’ll go for a hike but feel self-conscious and out of place walking in my neighborhood park.

What is that? (Really, if you have an answer, feel free to leave a comment.)

The realization of this duality in my nature leads me to ask, do we live better lives if we let our irresponsible sides take over? Can such existence be maintained? Or is it our responsibilities that give wing to a freer spirit, like a gust of wind to a kite, thereby allowing us periods in the heights where we can revel in joys and freedom, but is ultimately too frenetic a condition to be sustained?

Okay, well now I sound like a college student and this hasn’t anything to do with writer’s block anymore, does it? So…um…who’s looking forward to the new Muppets Movie?