Red Paint

Red Paint

I sat on the floor, cross-legged, “Lotus style,” attempting for the 5,678th time to transcend something or other by way of meditation. This was supposed to be therapeutic; instead, it made me itch. Invisible hives. I fidgeted, waiting for the tranquil chime that would signal the end of this torment and let me get back to work. My Captain thought this would be “therapeutic.”

Work. The work was therapeutic. The work was killing me. Not working was killing me faster.

How could I sit here, clearing my mind of all thought, focusing on nothing, when out there – out there – were children being bought and sold like blow-up vinyl sex toys? Made to endure unimaginable things, things that were taboo even in the fantasies of normal men and women? Working undercover had given me urgent purpose, but a deep sickness had taken root in my mind, and in my heart.

This was not the cure.

I no longer understood the term, “tolerant.” My Captain thought my devotion to the job was “unselfish.” Far from it. The last case had unfolded like layers of filo pastry, each one revealing an oppressive layer of nuts beneath treacly sweetness. Slender waifs, dressed up like dolls, used up, discarded–at first, we had thought it was a warehouse for mannequins from the children’s department. Disjointed arms, legs akimbo. Our minds refused to process the scene.

No. Center. Listen to the burbling of the artificial waterfall at the front of the studio. Make the mind a blank.

No, not “unselfish,” Captain. Unselfish would be helping those children, not sitting here with taboo fantasies of my own. I imagined those men we’d arrested, three weeks ago. Imagined them, walking free on some technicality while their slick dick of a lawyer grinned, the way one does after winning a Chess match, crushing the King in a meaty fist. Nothing more than a game, to him. I wondered if he kept a spare set of pawns at home. I imagined those men, their blood splattered like crimson paint from a can lobbed by a cannon against whitewashed walls. I imagined the art gallery where that wall might hang, even as I might hang for painting it. That was…satisfying, if not positively uplifting.

Center. Focus. The work was killing me. Not working was killing me faster.

At last, the chime sounded, and I was free to return to the work.


This story inspired by  and the words: Tolerant, Transcend, Tranquil, Therapeutic, Taboo, Undercover, Unselfish, Uplifting, Urgent, Unfold.

To whomever romanticized the notion of the writer, hunched over a bit of parchment in an attic room, eating nothing but gruel and subsisting on cheap whiskey or laudanum, go jump in a lake. I am suffering from seasonal allergies and find that, and lack of sleep, to be not at all conducive to creative thought. Sure, we slog through. But this is not the dream. The dream (and I am living it) is a well-functioning computer, a soft blanket, a comfy armchair, and hefty doses of pseudoephedrine, washed down with filtered eau du tap, and a good snort of oxymetazoline hcl. Not having a stuffy nose would help a lot.

Prunebutt the Muse is back. “Excuses, excuses,” he sneers.

Funny, Prunebutt the Fuzzball makes a decent handkerchief.


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Stolen Valor

Stolen Valor

Kami cocked her head at the handsome, youthful face on the screen, at eyes that radiated kindness. She zoomed in on the photo until she could make out the name on the badge: Lieutenant Ari Zartman. He was wearing his dress uniform, but grinning at a little blonde girl perched on the crook of his arm. She held his face between her tiny hands, her lips puckered and poised to give him a kiss. Such a zest for life, those two. What had she ever done to be worthy of them? Kami wondered. .

“I had to write,” he said, in his message. “I hope you don’t mind. I hope we can have a meaningful relationship. Are you as sweet as you look in your profile pic?”

Kami inhaled and let the air out of her lungs slowly, through pursed lips. She looked at glass-covered shadowbox on the wall, with its triangular-folded flag. “No,” she typed back.

A sleepy little girl, unperturbed and suffused with clean, fragrant warmth from her bubble bath, stood in the doorway. “Mommy?”

“Teeth brushed, Rache?” Kami asked, her voice cracking with tension. She clicked the Report link, wishing there were a greater crime she could choose from the list than “Impersonating someone I know.” And that wouldn’t do, either, because Ari wasn’t there, anymore, to confirm or deny her claim. “Fraud or scam,” she chose, for the seventh time this month. Lord, liberate me from hate, she pleaded silently.

The child nodded. “Teef brushed. Will you tell me a story?”

Kami nodded. She would tell Rachel the story about the King who loved his Queen and his little Princess, who would one day grow up to slay dragons and run the country. Neither of them ever got tired of that one, and to Rachel’s delight, Kami never, ever, said, “The End.”


This flash fiction inspired by Writing Prompt – Creative Copy Challenge #613 and the words: Valor, Youthful, Zest, Worthy, Unperturbed, Suffused, Poise, Meaningful, Liberate, Kindness

Contemporary Sonnet #010101010101

Contemporary Sonnet #010101010101

I morfed while speaking ASL (or was that a/s/l?)
Across the keys my fingers moved, in ALL CAPS DID I YELL
Hermaphroditic princess of Marcel Duchamp’s white throne
Nonplussed by nonsense on the screen, the drivel of a drone.
He asked me “Do u wanna chat?” l asked him, “Can you spell?
He asked “Whut R u Waring?” and I muttered, “Go to Hell.”
I judge performance with a pen, its ink as red as blood;
If you say “Insert A in B,’ your name, it will be mud.”
He vowed to be my lackey; and I, his Mistress (“Dork!”)
Dispatched him to a chat room with a jeweled tuna fork
And there did bade him to recite, in front of all and sundry,
A sonnet from atop his head – no limp iambic blund’ring!
He couldn’t get it up to rhyme (his fountain pen, I mean!)
Next thing he did was disconnect, and ne’er again was seen.


Written in 2007, based on an online chat circa 1990 but apparently one of those “evergreen” things that’s relatable, even today. Reposted in answer to

Some things never change.

Asibikaashi #WednesdayVerses

Asibikaashi #WednesdayVerses

Strong threads you weave;
A web of them,
At first, to swaddle and protect –
Softly subtle, safe cocoon,
Where only pleasant dreams reside.

Bright sunlight flickers,
warm, upon the glass, and I
Can’t move. Can’t breathe.
Your sticky net catches everything
Grows tighter as I struggle,
Wiggling free.
Where once I fed on you,
You feed on me.

Night terror, you,
Your breath tickling my cheek.
Does it still breathe? I hardly dare.
Half-dreaming, I reach out,
Slap you. Slap me.

So long ago, a truce – you
Retreated to the shadows,
Present, still.
Those graying wisps
Hang tattered, torn, defeated.
I learned to deal with nightmares
On my own.

But there! Just now,
Upon the dew-kissed window-pane,
I see you! Sunning yourself.
Smiling at the rounded belly
Beneath my hand, as we
In our own ways, our own time –
Begin to weave.


Happy New Year. And welcome to #WednesdayVerses. Vinay and Reema are offering a prompt each Wednesday to inspire you to write a poem. If it does, write it as a post on your blog, then come link up with them. If it doesn’t, then browse the links to read what others have written, and share the posts with your poetry-loving friends. The linky is open from Wednesday till the following Tuesday night! Please add your post to the link only if it is a post written for #WednesdayVerses. All are welcome and invited to participate.

The prompt for this week is the picture of a lovely dream-catcher, which finds its origins in Ojibwe legends. A link to the image is here.


Author’s note: I wanted to learn more about the real history of the Native American dreamcatcher – not just the commercialized motif so popular since the 1990s or so and more likely made in China, now, than by Native American hands. I hope that my own reading and interpretation of the story does it justice. What I saw, in reading the legends, was mothers and sisters and grandmothers standing in as proxies for the protective Spider Woman, Asibikaashi, whose web hangs over children’s cradles and beds and “catches” all the nightmares and only lets good thoughts and dreams come through the center. But children grow up; part of becoming an adult is struggling against the protection and safety of their elders’ “webs” and learning to take care of themselves, so that they can one day take care of others. As a mother, myself, I know that it’s only after we’ve broken free of the “constraints” of what we see as “overprotectiveness” that we’re ready to accept help from the old “spider women” whose webs once chafed and annoyed us.

Observant: My #OneWord365 for 2020

Observant: My #OneWord365 for 2020

My parents were the first to observe just how unobservant I am.  There’s a reasonable chance that, when my mom said, “Look quick! Did you see the [bear, deer, flying monkeys, velociraptor]?” it was just a feeble attempt to startle my nose out of a good book, so that I would not miss the endless mile markers as they raced backwards through the tempered glass windows of our VW. I imagined the slow respiration of stalwart trees pumping oxygen into the shimmering air as it rose in heat waves from the asphalt. Jarred so abruptly from the pages of other worlds as they took solid form in my head, it’s hard not to notice the sudden nausea brought on from reading in the car. “You’ll get carsick if you keep reading that, you know.” I did notice things, but I may have missed a beady-eyed crow as it flew faster to our destination than vulcanized rubber tires could carry us.

I think I’d had one or two dates with my husband before I noticed whether or not he wore glasses, or sported a mustache. I did notice his intelligence, his kindness, his trustworthiness – those things that matter most, but would hardly count at all in a police line-up. My mother laughed at me, perhaps relieved that I could not mentally reconstruct the tickle of hair against my upper lip. I doubt that I will ever put Sherlock Holmes to shame, but I think I have done, and can do, better than that.

It’s not just that writers need to be able to pick the purloiners of letters from a line-up; writers need to restock the bits and bobs that build imaginary worlds and all the actors in them. They don’t spring up from the void, fully formed; they are lovingly crafted from snippets of conversation; flashes of memory; wiggly things found under rocks; wisps of nightmares. The imagination must be restocked through keen observation and refilled like a muddy trout pond after years of drought and neglect. Laser focus on particular and pragmatic projects can lead to lack of energetic interest and observation when it comes to everything else.

There is another sense of the word observant: that of being diligently attentive to principles. In a sense, that brings me full circle to 2015, when I first discovered this insidious concept of choosing a single word to guide me in the coming year. In “Just ONE Word? You’re Kidding, Right?” I chose the word, “commit.” Last year’s word was, “limitless.” Did I observe time slipping, stealthy, from year to year, while commitment wavered and limits were, more often than not, self-imposed?

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

from Macbeth, William Shakespeare

Corinne Rodrigues writes, in “Is The Word Of The Year Practice Stressful?” that it’s meant to be “a visualization of what you want to be during the year. No pressure. No guilt.”  In my mind’s eye, I am hiding behind winter coats in a closet, clutching a dictionary to my chest, silently rocking back and forth. I want it all, I whisper. I don’t want a word. I want a paragraph. Then another, and another. If we’re talking about aspirational goals, and if I could choose more than one word, I’d keep both of those and add a new one: “observant.”

Life is short, and I want to live it, observant; I want to drink in the details, and wrestle loose from ordinary experience the elusive, recalcitrant words. At the end, I don’t want a tombstone with a handful of clichés carved into stone; some day, I want to fly – a billion dust motes sparkling like snow in sunshine, drifting onto the warm waves of the Atlantic Ocean as laughter rains up from a sandy beach into the endless blue sky. There are no words.

Meanwhile, in the interstices between that inevitable “some day” and the experiences of tomorrow and today, there are all the words.

 

Teach Me to Fish

Teach Me to Fish

Just Give Me a Logical Reason!

One of my first jobs out of college was to code selection statements that would automate the printing of just a few pages or sections of much larger reports to distribute to individual recipients. This involved using Boolean search operators, much like what you might use in Google, Bing, or Duck Duck Go today, to define specific text located in precise locations on the printed page.

For some strange reason, I enjoyed this. I enjoyed finding needles in haystacks, and made it a personal challenge to sift through as little hay as possible in order to find the needles with gold tips and hooked ends. At one point, I had a complex report defined in a single selection statement that probably ran on for five or six lines. I had parenthetically grouped and nested sets of search criteria and operators – it was a lengthy but precise statement of exactly what I wanted to include in the report, and I was inordinately proud of it. But it didn’t run. It didn’t give any error messages, either. It simply produced nothing.

Where Did That Quote Come From?

“Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach him to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.”

If you thought this was a Biblical proverb, you’d be in good company, but incorrect. The fishing allegory is most likely attributable to Anne Isabella Thackeray Ritchie,  the daughter of the prominent writer William Makepeace Thackeray. The same general idea was expressed by the 12th-century philosopher Maimonides, who wrote about eight degrees in the duty of charity. See Quote Investigator for more details and source citations.

 

The Occasional Oops!

If you are one of the founding members, you probably got an email, yesterday, with a now-broken link. One or two of you hit that link before I deleted it (or, technically, changed it without benefit of a redirect). That’s because I forgot the cardinal rule: No post may be published before its time!

For my readers who don’t blog, this means:

  • Write the post.
  • Give the post a catchy title and a featured image. If you wonder why some of the featured images here don’t exactly go with the post, it’s because I prefer to create my own. That way, I know I’m not violating anyone else’s copyright. Occasionally, I may use others’ images if they are clearly marked with a Creative Commons license or I have written permission from the photographer or artist.
  • Check that the title and permalink (e.g., the part that says “teach-me-to-fish” right now, in your browser address bar) go together.
  • Choose a Category for the post. Categories are what you see in the menu bar and its subsections.
  • Add a few tags to help people find the post. Tags are like index entries. You can just use the Search function, but tags might give you more conceptual information that isn’t explicitly part of the text within a post.
  • Craft an Excerpt. That’s the little descriptive blurb you see in search engine results and on the front page of this site. If there is no Excerpt, WordPress is set to use the first few words of the post in place of one. Unless you’ve fallen down the rabbit hole to arrive here, you know that the first few words of any post here may not provide the best description of what to expect.
  • Preview the thing to ensure that formatting is correct.

I forgot a step or two, in my haste to respond to yesterday’s poetry challenge from Raven Darkly. I did not mean to drop you into a black hole, but some random numbered permalink would not do, and I decided a dragon was a better Shadowbird than a white heron.

 

Update on Theme Customization

As mentioned in my first post, I’m using Elegant Themes‘ Divi and the Divi Builder, which is a brand new experience offering many new challenges. As predicted, I broke the blog on Wednesday, but was traveling. I could not fix it and threw caution to the wind: I asked for help.

Back in 2012, I won a Lifetime Membership to Elegant Themes. I loved their cleanly coded, easy to use, easy to customize themes. I moved away from those in 2016, mainly because they appeared to be phasing out all the themes I loved and going all in on their theme and builder combination they called, “Divi,” which I had tried and, frankly, hated. I paid for a different premium theme, called “Fullby,” which I loved, but chose to move away from for two reasons: The developer was not responsive to support requests, and I could see that it was not likely to keep up with the inevitable changes to WordPress–namely, the dreaded Gutenberg block editor. Divi was before its time. I fought that block editor as long as I could, while some raved about how wonderful it was and others wrote plug-ins to disable it and restore lost features of a bygone era. Mainly, I fought it because it did not allow for the easy fine-tuning of alignment between text and graphics. I was ready to hand-code each post in HTML if I had to, just to get those elements to align.

And then I thought, “Fine, I have a Lifetime membership to Elegant Themes, and it seems a shame to waste it. Let’s give Divi another go. I have vacation, plenty of time to waste. I can do this.”

I am grudgingly ready to admit that Divi and I are starting, mostly, to get along. I still half expect it to eat my posts (the main reason I despised it, early on, was that I’d tried it – then switched to a different theme – then switched back, and all my posts were gone).

But this weekend, I broke my blog. I entered a plea for help in Elegant Themes’ chat support. And waited. Nothing happened. I went to bed. In the morning, I had a lovely email from Abd, asking me to enable the support and admin features of Divi. At first I balked: Give someone else admin privileges on my blog? I don’t think so

Then, “Why not? What are they going to do, delete it?” There was nothing here to delete. There are no members but me, and admin me has access to pretty much nothing. So I enabled Support and Admin privileges. Next thing I know, Abd and Vojin from Elegant Themes had gone to work fixing my world.

At first, I thought I broke my blog, but the real problem was not my messing around in the style.css file, trying to change the color of elements not accessible via the Customizer. The real problem was another plug-in.

Instead of the usual, “It’s some crappy plug-in you’re using. Disable them all, then re-enable one at a time to figure it out on your own,” they told me what was wrong and they wrote some code in the Divi theme to work around it. I didn’t have to disable the crappy plug-in. Sweeet!

Then, I asked Vojin how to change the color of the elements I was trying to change. He asked me what color I wanted. I explained that I’d rather understand what I needed to do–that I wanted him to teach me how to fish, not throw me a mackerel and feed me for a day. He got it, and did both, providing a little snippet of .css code to do what I’d wanted.

So now I am back to being a huge fan of Elegant Themes–yes, and Divi–because of their expert and kind support staff. It usually does come down to the people, doesn’t it? I’m willing to put up with a little technical annoyance if the support staff goes above and beyond. It’s why I’ve been a T-Mobile customer since back before their coverage was better than AT&T’s, and why I’ve stayed with them for nearly a decade. And now it’s why I recommend Elegant Themes’ Lifetime Membership, as well.

Oh, and the more I work with Divi, the less “technical annoyance” I’m encountering. It’s just a very different way of working. And now I know that if I get stuck, I am not stuck without the help of some very kind and knowledgeable people.

Craving Answers

The “real systems engineers” and the “real programmers” (I did not consider myself one, at the time) reviewed my logic and syntax and could find no flaws in it. “Just break it down into two or three separate statements,” they suggested.

“Why?” I asked, hoping to understand and learn.

They shrugged. “Because what you’re doing isn’t working? Because if you simplify it, it might?” They really couldn’t – or wouldn’t – give me the logical answer I craved, so I chafed at the idea, but finally relented as there didn’t seem to be any other alternative.

It worked, but I was unsatisfied. I was still telling this story, ten years later, as an example of unsatisfied thirst for knowledge. Until one day, a man overheard me and started laughing as he began to stroll over to where I stood with a few colleagues. “I’ll bet I know what the problem was,” he said.

“Oh?” I was skeptical, but after ten years, I really hoped that he did.

“I used to work for IBM,” he said, asking if I knew whether the mainframe computer’s operating system was a particular version. I wasn’t sure, but it seemed likely. “That operating system only supported nine levels of nested parentheses. I’ll bet you used more than that.”

I could’ve kissed a stranger, that day. “I’m sure I did,” I said. “Thank you for finally giving me a straight answer that makes sense.”

Remember that when children, friends, or colleagues ask, “Why?” it may be easier, and certainly kinder, in the long run, to teach them than to keep doing a thing for them, or worse – ignoring them. I am a big believer in learning to fish, rather than simply hoping for someone to share their catch, and I have appreciated those who took the time to teach me.