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Wednesday, June 11, 2014

FICTION: Magic Fingers

“You see someone on the street, and essentially what you notice about them is the flaw.” - Diane Arbus

Even though my brother was never fully formed, the essence of him lurks within my bone marrow, influencing every decision I make.

The seeds of our existence were planted in 1974, when my parents took the Amtrak from Cleveland to Poughkeepsie for their honeymoon, and sat across the aisle from a woman traveling with twin girls. That night, they read the Beatitudes from the Bible they found in the drawer of the motel nightstand, and my father fed quarters to the Magic Fingers bed massager until the reality that they were actually “married” sank in. Then my mother curled against my father’s back under the thin orange bedspread, and prayed that their lives together would be blessed with twin girls.

Nine months later, after I slid into the world covered in vernix and blood, waving four tiny arms instead of two, and the doctor gruffly acknowledged that I was a boy, my mother realized that God never gives anything freely.

Most of the world sees me as an only child, but I am a twin. And the unique nature of my “twinness” goes beyond the shared intuitions and tendencies toward ESP that normal twins experience. Because we share a body, my brother’s desires and aptitudes guide me as thoroughly as my own. Nobody ever understands that part though. My mother is the only person who acknowledges the sacred bond that I have with my brother, but she is convinced that my twin is a female, and she refers to him as Patricia.

The doctors smile and shake their heads condescendingly when I tell them that my brother has his own feelings and talents. I keep trying to convince them that he’s the one who knows how to play the piano, not me. I can barely pound out Chopsticks, but those assholes think I’m just making up stories when I tell them that my brother lets me know he wants to play by tickling the insides of my palms with his soul. I can’t really explain it - other than to say that it’s an undercurrent of awareness, an unexplainable phenomenon - kind of like the Taos Hum, which is 100% real. Look it up if you don’t believe me.

I fascinate people, but I also disgust them. It’s the yin and yang of what defines my life. Sometimes people mock me - like the fat guy wearing pajama bottoms who called me a freak at the grocery store this morning. He was riding around in one of those motorized grocery carts - you know the ones that are supposed to be for the elderly or people with disabilities, but the only people who ever use them are fatties. I was tempted to give him a quadruple flip-off, but I promised my therapist that I would embrace that bullshit philosophy about being kind “because everyone is fighting a hard battle". Supposedly Plato said that, but I have my doubts. Plato was a logistician. He probably would have said something more like, “Be kind, because everyone has an ulterior motive". 

Even you. Do a little self-reflecting, you know I’m right. Maybe you want to sit next to me on the metro just so you can have a good story to tell your family at dinner, or you’re one of the many women who have pursued me over the years, because you know that four hands are probably way more fun that two. Maybe you just need to take a picture, so you will always have something to remind you to be grateful for what you don’t have.

I don't want to sound bitter. I am grateful that my brother turned me into a virtuoso pianist. People truly appreciate the music. Sometimes they even give me roses after my performances, and I keep them until the petals wither and drop - because gifts that are freely given are rare, and that gives me hope. Still, living in this body is a burden, and there are days when I obsess about how to get the fuck out. I’ve written the goodbye letter to our mother a thousand times. It always ends the same way: “We gave it everything we had, but it wasn’t enough.” And by the time I unlock the gun box, my palms are tickling so badly, that I just sit down at the piano and start to play.


*The Speakeasy at Yeah Write is the place to submit your poetry or short fiction (750 words or less). Every week there are different prompts.  Click on the Speak Easy badge below to see this week's prompts.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Seeking Grace

the answer is hidden in plain sight.

You don’t have to be a mystic,
or sit cross-legged
                                       to find it.

You are not required to sacrifice a virgin.

You don’t have to confess any sins.
                   You just have to be

Image credit: Nikon

Friday, June 6, 2014

That Poem Is Nice, But . . .

"Literature - creative literature - unconcerned with sex, is inconceivable." Gertrude Stein

This morning while I was sipping my first cup of coffee, I read an excerpt about Maya Angelou from the book, Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, by Mason Currey. Apparently, Angelou couldn't write in "pretty surroundings", so she rented a hotel room and worked there. She described it as "a tiny mean room with just a bed." She kept a dictionary, a bible, a deck of cards and a bottle of sherry in that room, and she worked there every day from 7 a.m. until 2 p.m.

"In this manner, Angelou has managed to write not only her acclaimed series of autobiographies but numerous poems, plays, lectures, articles, and television scripts. Sometimes the intensity of the work brings on strange physical reactions -- her back goes out, her knees swell, and her eyelids once swelled completely shut." Mason Currey 

I planned to write a serious post about the powerful role that writing plays in my life - the act itself, but also the process and rituals that go along with it. How the part about Angelou's eyes swelling shut reminded me about the night in high school when I wrote a poem about screaming, and I woke up the next day unable to speak. I was going to talk about how writing is kind of like using a Ouija board, because you never know what kind of spirits you're going to conjure when you pick up a pen, or sit in front of the keyboard. 

But I decided to scrap that line of thinking to pursue something a little lighter, in honor of reaching 25,000 page views on my blog, and in deference to my perpetually "glass-half-full", hilarious wife, who read my most recent poem and responded: "Jesus Christ! You are so fucking deep. Don't you have anything happy-go-lucky? You would make a terrible children's book writer, so you can cross that one off your list right now."

As all of you seasoned bloggers know, your little corner of cyperspace is equipped with a stats tool, which allows you to see which of your posts people are reading, where in the physical world those readers reside, and the kind of search terms they are using to find your writing. A quick look at my stats shows me that while there are a few sad sacks who occasionally read my poetry, an embarrassingly large percentage of my page views are connected to a ridiculous post I wrote back in August of 2013 called Think Outside the Box: Vajazzle, In the past 24 hours 72 people have read that stupid essay. Most of them live in Russia or the Ukraine, and many of them were lead to my sparkly box of wonder by using the following search terms: 

Stacie over at Stacies Snapshots and Tidbits turned me on to the keyword search area of my stats, and I'm not sure whether to thank her, or go stab myself in the eye with a pen.

In celebration of 25,000 pageviews (many of which were dedicated to the noble vagina), I offer you a contest, complete with tasteless prizes.  

                                                                   * * * * * * * * * * 

The contest: In the comment section, please tell me what makes you read someone's blog.  Is it the content? The writing style? The promise of sparkly genitals?  I'll have Mo choose two winners by next Friday 6/13. Check back then to see if Friday the 13th is your lucky day!

The prizes: 

1. Ronald McMushroom. He's a gloriously phallic plush toy, made by Hallmark in the 1980's. I rescued him from a garage sale. If you don't have a dog to chew him up, you can sell him on Ebay. 

2. George Bush and Family Paper Dolls: Have you ever wanted to play dress up with a president? Here's your chance! In this very collectible paper doll collection, Mr. and Mrs. B are depicted in their skivvies. The former Commander-in-chief is not "commando", and there's no sign of Barbara's Bush, but they do appear in their underwear. 

You can spend hours cutting out their paper wardrobes and changing their outfits, which is tons of fun, regardless of your political leanings!

This would be a great activity if you have some time to fill (i.e. a lengthy quarantine, or a short prison term). Full color. Excellent vintage condition. Collectible. Copyright 1990.


Tuesday, June 3, 2014

A Cautionary Tale

There is no warning rattle at the door,
no screech of tires
or smell of rubber burning.

When the knowing comes,
there is no avalanche of truth.

                             The changes are subtle.

My bones are little more than a cage
housing a heart
that resembles a construction paper Valentine.        

Over time,
my skin is less like a shield, and more like
a fortune-teller's globe,
able to divine the future.

                           But warnings are rarely helpful.

Nobody wants to say the words,
"this won't last forever."
We don't talk about bodies that way.

Like they're finite.

And even if I Google
"What does an avalanche sound like?"
The knowledge that it makes a noise like a freight train,
or whispers like a thousand trees
swaying in the wind,
won't save me from being buried
                    by the weight of all that snow.

This is a prompted response to Yeah Write's Speakeasy Challenge. Click on the badge below to see the prompts, and read all of the other entries. 

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

FICTION: Back to the Future

"Imagine trying to live without air.  Now imagine something worse." - Amy Reed

People who say that there is no such thing as time travel are full of shit. It definitely exists, but it’s not all fun and games, Back to the Future  - "Would I like my dad if I knew him in high school?" And it doesn’t pull into your driveway like a sweet Delorean with gull-wing doors. Your time travel future-self doesn’t have a hip name that’s full of irony, like Marty McFly.

Your version of time travel looks like this: One day you’re at the soccer field sitting on a blue nylon folding chair watching as your daughter executes the perfect slide tackle. An icy Diet Pepsi is sweating in the plastic cup-holder that’s attached to the arm rest. You are laughing and chatting with the other parents. You brought Gogurt and Mini Oreos for all of the kids on the team.

Your life is *almost* perfect. You‘re a good mom. You‘re a good friend. You care about the planet. You drive a Prius, and you listen to NPR. But nobody thinks you‘re special.  .  . Nobody leaves sweet notes for you by the coffee maker before they head out to the office. Nobody grabs your hand and leads you over to the window and says, “Look, it’s a hummingbird”, or “Let’s go away for the weekend - just us”. Nobody saves you the green M&M’s because they’re your favorite. And eventually the mediocrity and the loneliness get the better of you, and you go in search of your bolt of electricity - your ticket to the future.

You see a flyer: Speed Dating Event for All Single Professionals Ages 32-44. Every Fourth Tuesday from 7:00 - 9:00 at CafĂ© Ronaldo. $20 per entrant. You prepare your questions: 
  • Where do you work? 
  • Do you have any children? 
  • And your favorite - What’s the one thing about yourself that you would like me to know?
You meet a dozen men, but they’re all timid and paunchy. They wear short-sleeved plaid shirts. One of them has a lazy eye. Nate has thick curly hair, and a sexy five o’clock shadow. His answer to the one thing you want me to know about you question is, “I’m a risk-taker.” You leave with him, and you sleep with him even though he listens to country music, and he has a “Real Men Love Jesus” bumper sticker on his truck. 

Everything is perfect for about six months. You laugh a lot. You feel special.  The first time Nate offers you the pipe, you decline. The chemical smell makes your eyes burn. He laughs and says, “That’s OK, more for me.” At some point, you change your mind - decide to take a risk. Your mouth tastes like tin foil, but your brain is on fire. You can’t wait to do it again.

And then one day, you catch a glimpse of your reflection in the filthy window of your living room - the one with the mildew lining the corners and the tight metal latches that pinch every time you try to release them. Your hair has two inches of grow out and is flat with grease.Your armpits smell like onions. Some distant memory of the person that you used to be, taps you on the shoulder, whispers admonitions. “Take a fucking shower. Sign the twins' field trip form.” But you don’t, because you’re frozen with waiting. Nate left five hours ago, and you have been clutching the remote and pacing ever since - stepping around the toys and dirty dishes that litter the floor. 

Five.fucking.hours. You are clutching that remote like it’s the Holy Grail. . .waiting. 

Good Morning America was on when Nate left. And you’ve lived through The Price is Right, three episodes of Friends, and Dr. Phil. Fuck Dr. Phil, and fuck Nate. You can’t take the waiting much longer. You’ve already torn the couch apart looking for a forgotten crumb; spread the thick gold threads of the carpet in search of white; pressed your moist fingertip down into the knobby burlap backing and brought it to your lips expectantly.

You catch another glimpse of your reflection in the window and you remember the way Nate’s ex-wife looked at you when the two of you ran into her at the Shell station, how he said, “Hey, Katie - wait up. I want you to meet my girlfriend, Molly.” -  How she met your eyes, with something like fear mixed with pity; how she turned and she never looked back, she just kept walking.

*The Speakeasy at Yeah Write is the place to submit your poetry or short fiction (750 words or less). Every week there are different prompts.  Click on the Speak Easy badge below to see this week's prompts.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Creation Myth

I’m trying to trace the thread
of memory
to the place of dust and ashes
                                 that existed
before skin.

To breathe the nothingness
you breathed,
before your lips formed a tight O,
                                 and words became
blades that could scrape me.


Photo Credit: Me
*Join us every Monday for the Yeah Write Gargleblaster challenge. 42 words that answer "the ultimate question". 

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Woman in Black

“In the deeps are the violence and terror of which psychology has warned us. But if you ride these monsters deeper down, if you drop with them farther over the world's rim, you find what our sciences cannot locate or name, the substrate, the ocean or matrix or ether which buoys the rest, which gives goodness its power for good, and evil its power for evil, the unified field: our complex and inexplicable caring for each other, and for our life together here. This is given. It is not learned." - Annie Dillard

Two weeks ago, I participated in my first Women in Black event. I have seen those women standing at the threshold of my small town, silent and motionless, every Friday for the past 25 years, and I have always been intrigued by them.

Image credit:

My younger self was drawn to the *idea* of them, but my middle-aged self is drawn to their unflinching willingness to bear witness.

When my friend, Haley told me that she started standing with the WIB, I responded in typical Karen - "I have good intentions, limited information, and I haven't really thought it through" - fashion.

Haley: "I've been standing with the Women in Black." 

Me: "That's so awesome! I've always wanted to do it, but I've been too chicken."

Haley: "Do you want to meet me there this Friday?"

Me: "Sure!"

Friday morning dawned, sunny and glorious.  As I sat at my desk, sipping coffee and gazing dreamily out the window while a family of squirrels frolicked in the yard below, I noted that it seemed like a perfect day for a outdoor vigil. Then I made a grocery list, and assembled my inky garments.

When Mo got home from work, we headed to Olympia to meet Haley. Fifteen minutes into our journey, the sun retreated behind a bank of ominous-looking clouds, and shortly thereafter, our vehicle was enveloped in a mini-monsoon.

After making a quick detour to Big Lots to purchase two black umbrellas, Mo reluctantly parked the car, looked at me dubiously, and said, "I would do anything for you, you know?" Then we bolted out into the rain, and took our places on Percival Landing next to the four other women in black.

A less somber group of peace activists gathers every Friday on the corner directly across from the WIB, and despite the rain, their group included a tuba and a couple of bongo players. Mo looked longingly over at them, then turned her head toward me, and mouthed, "I.wish.I.was.over.there."

I don't like drawing attention to myself, so I spent the first ten minutes of the vigil using my new umbrella as an invisibility shield, but eventually, I settled into the silence, and began to notice the things around me. One of the Women in Black was wearing a placard that said, "I Stand For Peace." Every few minutes, the wind caught the corner of the laminated board, and her sign would flutter slightly - forcing me to take notice, and consider what I "stand for."

Traffic pulsed through the intersection.  A cute girl zipped past on a bike, and blew us a kiss; someone tossed a Starbuck's cup out of their car, and it rolled toward the curb; an old guy with a ZZ Top beard flashed the peace sign; someone screamed, "FUCK YOU!!" Rain seeped into my shoes and pelted my frozen fingers. A ray of sun flickered through the thick, grey clouds, and a double rainbow took shape in the sky - reminding me that every moment contains the balance of darkness and light.

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