It's all about the STORY!

Posts tagged ‘story’

Freedom Possessed (from The Book of Carver)

Poor chap. He’s obviously here on a tropical vacation. I can smell the stress oozing out of his pours mixing with the faint smell of rum frombeach-bar the night before. It’s about 9am, and yes, we’re sitting at the bar—a quaint seaside bar in a Costa Rica fishing village around Potrero. His eyes poured over me in an attempt to size me up, and he was a handsome gringo from the States. Sandy, blonde, disheveled hair with a sturdy athletic build framing a small, plump belly that no doubt served as the aftermath of far too many craft beers. I’d say that he looked ordinary and familiar, except that over the three months that I have been living here, the familiarity of America had dimmed to the flickering of a candle—a memory that I can still recall, but only in glimpses.

 He began three seats over, and I pretended not to notice him much. Within the course of a full minute, he had maneuvered his way to the seat next to mine through a series of gestures, beginning with taking a lime out of the bar caddy to squeeze into his seltzer water, then shifting over to give room for his right leg, which sported the faint scar of a jellyfish sting.

 “Hi. I’m Carver,” he said, and reached his smooth hand over to offer mine a polite shake.

 I took his hand and cupped them in both of mine, rolled his palm upward and began tracing the lines with my finger. “You’re here on vacation. You had a terrible encounter with a sea creature when you first arrived, and you’re only hear for less than two weeks. You drank too much rum last night, but your leg is feeling much better.” I continued examining the palm of his hand.”

 “You read palms?”

 “No. I just don’t think you’ve ever done a hard day’s work in your life,” I winked at him and smiled. “I’m Veronica,” I said, as I smoothed over his hand and gave it back to him. He suddenly broke open with a smile that engulfed his entire face, and he lit up with beams of gorgeous energy. I’m certain I blushed, so I looked away to conceal my excitement.

 “Do you live here?” he asked.

 “I think so,” I said and turned back to him. “I’ve been here for three months. An expatriate of sorts. I don’t know how long I’ll stay. I’ll stay as long as I like.”

 “Wow. An extended vacation. Must be nice. I might have met a rich heiress, or just a freedom-loving beach bum who roams the world unencumbered. Intriguing. I want to know your story.”

 Oh, and what story is that?” I asked leaning into him slightly.

 “What is your take on being rich or freedom-loving?’ He looked down and his face dimmed as if he were being reminded of all that stress that had recently started melting away from him. “I could sure use a different perspective right now.”

“You really want to know. Want to know what I really think about all of that?”

 “You have no idea how badly I need to know,” he sad as he craned his neck over to glance into my eyes.

 I placed my hand gently on his shoulders and glided my fingers over them, “Well then I’ll tell you.’

 “About money. I prefer having money over not. I’ve had a whole lot of both. But, I’ve also learned that I prefer freedom over money. I used to think that money could buy freedom, and that it broadens our spectrum of choices. That’s only partially true. It matters where the money comes from. In looking drearily over the state of our political affairs back in the States, it’s clear the effects of having a bought government has on our liberties. The same can be said for most Americans. We are a bought society mostly, as most of our countrymen (and women) are owned by another corporation or set of persons for the better part of their day, nearly every day, with some temporary time off for good behavior. During the time we are at work—another party benefits far greater for our service than we do, and the majority of our actions, behaviors and even image is dictated by another. And, usually, the better we are at feeding the monster’s greed in some fashion: money or prestige or obedience, we are rewarded with a small share of money for ourselves and a few regulated freedoms.”

“Some smaller than others, and yes. I can’t disagree with any of that. But what can we do? We have bills, mortgages, responsibilities. We must obey,” he said, sitting up straight and taking a few gulps of his soda. “We’re in the machine—just a cog in a dysfunctional, evil wheel.”

 “Well, we don’t have to have all of those responsibilities. That’s the first part of the trap. We need shelter, food and clothing and a few dollars to help us get around and handle an emergency if needed. That’s it. It’s all the other shiny stuff that lures us in, and then we find ourselves trapped. Or perhaps we just think we’re trapped. In fact, they left the cage door open. We just didn’t realize it. We continued behaving like we were trapped, so they didn’t bother locking the door. They got lazy because so did we.

 “Okay, but if walking through that door really was easy, don’t you think more people would do it?” he said.

 “Most people never see the beast. One day, I saw the monster for what it was. It showed itself to me, and I spit on him. I took the most unimaginable leap into freedom that most people could not fathom, and I walked out into a sea of limitless uncertainty. It was easy for me to do—I just put the focus on “limitless” and used the power of uncertainty to fuel my adventure!”

 “Oh come on! I believe you’re good. But you didn’t escape clean like that. I know you didn’t,” he said.

 “I made a few small missteps along the way. At one point, I became “self-employed,” working on projects with dozens of individual clients, and it didn’t take me long to realize the horrible truth—that I had traded in one master for many! The only thing that I had taken control over was my earnings. I was still owned.”

 “I can see that. But, then what? That didn’t land you here, did it? You still need to pay for the shelter, food and clothing, right? Someone has to provide the cash for you to do it, and you are accountable to them for something, right?” he asked.

 “Sure, and that wasn’t the end of my mistakes, either. In my ennui, knowing that I didn’t want to be owned by these people either, I started doing more things I enjoyed for much lower pay, and my income and expenses were not even remotely in synch. A little of that had to do with me helping to support a sick family member… back to those emergencies I mentioned. So, I was in a whole, behind on most of my bills, and I needed to catch up. Along came an opportunity—one high-paying client. After three months there, and allowing another fluorescent-lighted cubicle littered hell to eat my life for a bit, I walked away.”

 “But,” I said, “I walked away with an epiphany. I learned that I could command a much higher rate of pay than I thought. My expenses had already been reduced to a minimum, combine that with a high rate of pay, and now I’ve found the balance that I needed. I take on just enough work, doing work that mostly I enjoy, for people I enjoy working with, to cover my expenses and a little more to pad the wallet for rainy days and my work can keep me roaming about the planet as I please. I can do what I do from any corner of the globe where I have internet access.”

 “And that mostly sums up my perspective on money and freedom and how I like to keep it balanced for me. Not to fulfill everyone’s dream—my dream.”

 Carver stood up, and rubbed his eyes, then he slowly began walking away back to his motel room.

 “Where are you going?” I asked.

 “I’m instructing my brother to sell my Porsche.” 

Daphne — Urban Mouse Hunter

He looked at me, twitching his whiskers, taunting me… mocking me…

It wasn’t a subtle appearance—they were bold as if they perceived themselves to be thoroughly welcome house guests, anticipating their own set of fresh linens and tasty late night snacks.

20110930-mice-on-bedding-IMG-3948A pair of beady little black eyes and long gray whiskers jutting out from a tiny furry body appeared from behind a box of unopened oatmeal. We stood there staring at each other for a bit, then he scurried into my stove, out of view. I took in a deep breath and sighed. I hoped we could be friends, but these sorts of friendships never end well. One thing was certain, however…

Damnit! I have mice. Oh, sure I only saw the one, but where there’s one, there’s more. How many more is anyone’s guess.

I quickly decided that the last thing I want these infernal things to do is go running all over the apartment and get into my food in the kitchen. So, they’ve commandeered the stove—great. The stove is theirs for the time being until I can figure out how to capture these vermin. That means for me that the stove is off limits. I certainly don’t want to prepare food where these things are dwelling. They are not the tidiest of creatures to put it mildly.

How to keep them out of my food? Well, I will feed them, of course! If they eat their own food, they will stay away from mine. (Interestingly, that tactic actually worked. Don’t knock insanity until you’ve tried it!)

I’ve found that they are quite fond of peanut butter and crackers, and I realized that there were certain times of day that they went about foraging. They seemed quite pleased with the convenient and thoughtful bits I’d leave for them. Little did they realize that my ultimate goal was their capture. I’m certain they found me very hospitable.

And capture I did! Two—the only two I thought I had—I placed their food into an open cage that I had set on the stove. When they entered, I slammed a bit of plastic over the opening so they couldn’t escape. I then secured the opening door behind them, and I had mice in a cage.

How did that work? So, yes. This means that I had to stand alone in my kitchen, during the times I knew they dined, and waited patiently to make my move. Yes, this took hours. Yes, this happened over a matter of days…longer, actually. No, I have no discernible life—stop judging me, okay?

Oh, no. The story doesn’t end here—this is only the beginning…

As I went about my mouse-free life, my mother suddenly fell ill, and I needed to stay at her apartment and help with her dog and a few other responsibilities as she recuperated. Meanwhile, I had a cat that stayed in my apartment, and I would visit her daily, feed her, pet her—all of those things you do with cats as they go about mauling you for fun. Then, when I realized that my stay at my mother’s was going to be extended, I moved the cat over to her place, too.

I’d still go visit my apartment, clean, check on things, discard old food, etc. And, that’s when I noticed it—a pair of old slacks I had meant to donate had pieces shredded from it, and it was lying on the closet floor. I examined other bits of this and that to notice more shredded fabric and debris. Mice!

Now it was clear that while I rid myself of a couple rodents, several more made their way in and called my mostly vacant apartment home. I noticed droppings here and there, food packages with holes in them, and of course the shredded fabric where they attempted to make little nests for themselves.

I decided it was time to move back in, and reclaim my apartment from these vermin. Bastards aren’t even paying rent!

This time there will not be any attempts at trapping them by hand, but I did go out and buy several “no kill” mouse traps, still with the thought in mind that I would just relocate the furry fiends, and we could all just go about our lives… separately.

One afternoon, I’m sleeping. (Hey! I work at night…) I wake up to find a pile of sunflower seed shells up next to my pillow. I was livid! The little bastard is taunting me, mocking me!

I could just picture him there, piling up his mid-day lunch next to my head, then crunched away on my seeds with a smug little look on his face whilst watching me sleep. As if I was some sort of entertainment to him, an amusement.

All sense of civility left me. I yelled at the worthless cat, threw out the “no kill” traps and banged on the stove to make sure the little critters were paying close attention and officially declared war!

I called an exterminator and set an appointment—they would arrive in three days. Yeah, I know. Most of you are thinking—what the hell took you so long? Look, when I was a kid, friends of mine had mice as pets. It’s not as simple as it might seem. Of course other friends had pets like snakes and lizards that ate mice, but I didn’t have access to a snake or carnivorous lizard at the moment, and the cat, like I said—worthless.

I need a mouser…

Walking back to my car late at night, I noticed something. We have a family of half-feral cats living among us. One is friendly enough that she lets me pick her up. Idea! Maybe I can do away with the expense of the exterminator and just kidnap this cat to do a little mousing.

I went back into my apartment, and shoved my worthless cat over on the bed so that I could try to get some sleep. When I’ve almost drifted off, I see my worthless cat out of the corner of my eye prancing around. I look up, and there she is in the center of the room… with a mouse in her mouth!

I sit up in glee—what a wonderful sight. Life’s food chain in full action! My cat isn’t worthless after all! But, if she’s such a great mouser, and she indeed appears to be, why haven’t I seen any mouse corpses lying around?

catmouseJust then, she walks over towards me, and just beside the bed, she is still toying with its near lifeless body.  I watcher paw it, nibble it, lick it and suck on it until I watch her devour it whole… little bones, tail whiskers and all!

The next day I cancelled my appointment with the exterminator. It appears that I’m living with one, and she’s finally covering her share of the rent in labor. Good cat!

 

Alien trying on a human suit — a personal essay on attachment

There are markers in life, much like creases in a paper back novel where the binding has been scarred, pointing out the more profound moments where we pause, linger and think.

Perhaps these markers serve a purpose—branding some teachable moments that grip us and hold us down until we succumb to the lessons we ought to learn. I think these markers exist, too, so that we may return to these moments in time and quarry lessons that we may not have been ready to learn when they first occurred. Time, it seems, wields magical powers that discards debris, leaving only that which is purposeful behind for easy discovery when we most need it, though seldom want it.

It is the reoccurring marker that I find most disturbing. It is timeless, unchanging and it smells of burnt embers and damp dirt, haunting me in various incarnations throughout my life, and it marks the same story each time: attachment.

Very recently during a certain tragedy, this marker slipped into place once more, and I knew it too well. Interestingly, this wasn’t my tragedy to claim as my own—they never are. I’m just a bystander. Or worse. I’m trapped in a limbo, a perpetual waiting room with no doors or windows. And it’s quiet. I’m only aware that the tragedy exists—I can’t see it, hear it or know of its details. In fact, it is this absence that weighs on me, and emotions start coursing through me like electricity. This is the source of my suffering: I worry.

Okay, truthfully it’s not as bad as all that. In fact it wasn’t — it hasn’t been and it isn’t. But it’s an accurate description while melodramatic. The point is, I worried.

Worry? That doesn’t sound so bad. People worry all the time about their bills, relationships, family, friends, jobs, reputations, wardrobe, what brand of moisturizer to use and exterior wall paint color. Yes, people do. I don’t. The gods felt it wise to have the “worry gene” lay dormant in my DNA. And that’s not all…

Compassion, empathy, sympathy and worry, these simply are not strong traits in my character. I have enough to be classified human and sane, but not enough trace evidence of it that you’ll hear anyone join these words up with my name outside of sarcasm. You won’t find me teary-eyed over a friend’s grief: love, life, loss… After all, that’s his grief. There’s no sense in both of us getting all torn up about the thing, right?

Right.

Well, mostly. And then the marker slips into place. Every once in a long while, my immunity to attachment weakens, this DNA reanimates, and there you have it—I care. Not with everyone, just with a select person or two, I end up attached. Maybe if I were a little more practiced in this art I wouldn’t be so jarred by it, but as it stands, I’m not a fan, and I pretty-much suck at it. Please don’t misunderstand me, this isn’t some altruistic caring for others that overtakes me. No, it’s completely, obsessively selfish. I think…

Somewhere I have to believe that there’s a seed of goodness, of altruism, of genuine concern for the other at the heart of my dysfunction that is intended to somehow be beneficial to them. I often hear it’s a good thing to care about others and their well-being. I’m not so sure. I’ve yet to find an instance when worrying about anyone or any circumstance has actually done any good. From very limited experience, I do know that it can be quite painful for the worrier, so I’m torn on this matter of goodness.

Either way, over the years I’ve made attempts to not allow this alien state to infect all of my sensibilities, and I’ve worked to alter may behavior so that over the years I seem less and less creepy. It hasn’t been easy. Trying to channel the swell of emotions—love, fear, hope, sadness—into something positive, or at least less creepy, has taken decades of work.

Well, sort of. As I said, this a very rare occurrence for me, so each time it happens (maybe every ten years or so), I just try to do a better job with it. And I refer to markers past for reference—fine examples of exactly what not to do this time around. I do know that following instinct here will ensure failure, so reason must override my behavior if I have any chance of success.

For instance, while I may have an overwhelming urge to attach myself to a select suffering friend like a needy baby gorilla, I refrain, believing that behavior would be quite irritating after a short while… for them. Good insight, no?

This time, as the marker settled in and emotions began to build, I don’t think I was as miserable a failure as I have been in the past. I don’t think. The story hasn’t fully come to a close yet, either. What I do know is that this time I deliberately framed my communications before blurting them out in some desperate weirdness. Reason over instinct. Instead of saying: “Call me right away before I jump out of my skin and go kick a puppy!” I said something like, “Please give me a call sometime if you feel up to it.”

See what I did there? I transformed this psychotic-babbling demand to a passive and nearly aloof request. Better, no? Admittedly I did fail at communicating anything honest, but as you can see, full honesty in this case would put my behavior way up the creep scale—the most important thing I am attempting to avoid in this life-lesson. However, I also failed at getting the desired result, which caused me to have more of those damn feelings. Not entirely a success from my perspective.

Now, still left with this mess of tangled, alien feelings—the love, fear, hope, sadness—I found also that at times I actually became a little anxious. Me? Anxious? Another foreign land for me to navigate, but there it was so I had to deal with it.

So, what is anxiety? Anxiety is a mass of powerful energy; a surge of adrenaline that causes a variety of responsive symptoms, I realized as I was trying to remember to breathe (oh I wasn’t hyperventilating or anything nuts… just a little anxious, but still). So, what can be done with an energy surge?

Well, energy can only be one of two things—positive or negative. Rationally, I know that positive is better than negative, and what I was feeling, or perhaps more accurately is… how I was interpreting the feeling was entirely negative.

But it is me—my very body is the conduit that has all the power necessary to change the frequency of that energy from negative to positive. How? Perception.

I had this great idea! Once the anxiety built to a level that had me fully agitated, all of this highly irritating energy stored up, I went quiet, and I focused on love, and I prayed. Using the full force of all of the built up negativity, I redirected it in prayer and released it. Ha! That worked! Negative turned to positive, and anyway you look at it, I was free from it. (Greater success than the passive aloof phone message was—I still have work to do on that one.)

What does all of this mean? Markers serve a significant purpose in helping to guide us through our life journeys and discover instances of personal enlightenment. Though, I submit that the jury is still out on whether emotions serve any helpful purpose. I understand that a degree of emotiveness is important in humanity, to assimilate, fit in, play well with others and to demonstrate care for people important to us—even if in my case that only seems to come up every decade or so. But does feeling pain, empathy, sympathy and worry—does this do any good? I don’t know.

What I do know is that I’m absolutely not a fan of being human. And, half of me wants to take this whole horrific experience, and the other ones that came before it, pack them up in a duffle bag with a bathing suit, toothbrush and flip flops and hide out in a fishing village in Costa Rica drinking too much rum, eating tacos and writing weird fiction novels no one understands.

The saner half of me knows that I need to get my shit together, celebrate that this time having emotions wasn’t a complete failure for me—it didn’t cause any relationship damage or awkward embarrassing moments, potentially alienating me from the friend I care about and eventually humanity at large. And I can move on, work at trying to be better at this human thing next time it hits me.

And the markers with their earthy odor that continue to haunt me—I don’t think I’ll fear them anymore. I’m learning to appreciate the lessons, in part. Perhaps it’s time to call out the monsters from under the bed—the love, fear hope and sadness—and offer them milk and cookies. Make acquaintances with them even if I’m still suspicious of their friendship. They’re not really that scary after all.

Now, where did I put that duffle bag?

monster001

Creative nonfiction: Nearly eaten by zombies in back of the Columbia in Ybor City (true story!)

 It all began most innocently, as most things do. A festive Sunday evening, celebrating the birthday of someone I barely know with a moderate crowed of good, interesting people. I was mostly a stranger but warmly welcomed, sharing bread, stories and laughter. The 1905 historic building of the Columbia Restaurant was most comforting. The surroundings were hauntingly familiar, though I’ve never been there before. Memories seeping through the rich history and decor as though they were true memories of eras past, but it was just my imagination getting the better of me again.

 Soon, the festivities were to come to an end. Photographs clicked through various brands of smart phones, and we embarked on a long exit through the building, still enchanted by the beauty of the surroundings. We all collected along the outside facade, blocking the doorway of the restaurant as the warm Floridian night air fell hard and closing time had recently passed. We lingered there a while longer. Annoyed by intrusive cabbies begging for work, we took it upon ourselves to annoy them back. Taunting them with prospective business then quickly waving them on–an economic tease. The humor seemed to be lost on the victims.

Eventually we all began to part ways. A few crossed the street to their cars, and the rest of us grouped together and rounded the corner behind the restaurant to the rear parking lot. As we all took part in that strange female custom of hugging one another, and making plans for the next meeting before departing, a strange man approached us. He wanted a hug.

 “I have this map, and I was hoping you all could help me,” he said. “The map said this is the place you get hugs. Can I have a hug?”

 All of us were smooth and swift, laughing uncomfortably and darting to the interiors of our vehicles. As for me and my co-pilot, we had to walk a few steps to get to my car. Just short of running, we got there in a flash, and I quickly unlocked the door. Not quick enough.

 As we walked, we noticed one very thin and disturbing looking man with a very long and flimsy tree branch in his hand. He was walking towards us. Suddenly, another thin and disturbing-looking man turned the corner, also heading in our direction. They looked like zombies! Then, just as my friend and I were safely locked in the car with the engine running, the huggy guy comes up to us again.

 “Hey, what’s wrong with me? I can’t get a hug? I’m a likeable guy,” he says.

 We wave at him, and I begin to back up the car, until I notice that the two zombies are dead-on in front of the car, the one with the tree branch appeared translucent in the glow of the headlights, staring straight at us. The huggy guy was directly behind us. We’re trapped.

 I quickly maneuver the car, trying to back up in an angle, away from the two zombies and the huggy guy. They seemed frozen, though I was fearful that at any minute they would dart in front of the car, making me hit them. Yet, they just stayed still, staring at us in the car. I was able to drive around them and escape. Perhaps, despite what many zombie movies show, perhaps zombies move quite slowly. At least that was my experience.

I am happy to report that my co-pilot and I escaped all physical harm from this experience, but today we find ourselves more vigilant of the presence of zombies than ever before! You may not believe that these persons I’ve described are in fact zombies. I will remind you that you were not there, were you? No. So, maybe a bit of healthy caution and awareness of real zombies in your town would be in your best interest. Just a thought.

Tag Cloud