Month: March 2016

A small voice speaks

Day 31: Meet Mr. Sniff.

That’s what we (you and I) will call my sixth-grade teacher for his habit of sniffing the backs of his hands as he sits at his desk at the front of the room. Staring at us. Or at the windows behind us. Impossible to tell, when the light from the windows covers his glasses like miniature curtains.

We are still new to each other, all of us. The students, the teacher, the school year.

And too noisy for Mr. Sniff. He wants order. Quiet. And to get it, he gives us an assignment. Write something. Something different. Not about your summer vacation. But it must be two pages. A full two pages long. There is groaning. Mr. Sniff threatens to increase the task to three pages. We have thirty minutes.

I pull a few sheets of paper out of my desk. What to write about? All I’ve ever written before was poetry, and only a few times, usually when we had a substitute teacher. I chew on the end of my pen. Find myself staring out, as if across the room. But I’m not seeing the room. I’m enraptured by the idea of Something …

Mr. Sniff passes by, looking for idlers. I lower my head. Stare at the paper. Tap my pen lightly, up and down, a little see-saw motion while I think. And then I sense …something. I lean in, face low to the paper.  Lower the pen. And then I vanish. Just like that.


confession canyon.jpg

I’m no longer in the classroom. I’m outside and the sun is shining and I’m following two children about my age, a boy and a girl. They are out walking across a strange landscape. We are in a canyon, baked by the sun and shadowed by mountains. One mountain looms ahead. Superstition Mountain.

Why is it called that, asks the girl. The boy says no one knows for sure. There have been rumors. About gold. But also about how people don’t come back from Superstition Mountain.

They shouldn’t go. They cannot resist.

They keep walking, then they’re climbing up Superstition Mountain. They come to a cave. We shouldn’t go in, the girl says, hanging back. What if there’s treasure, the boy says. And so they go into the cave. This enormous, dark cave. That smells funny.

Mr. Sniff announces Five Minutes.

I pull back out of the story to see that I’m half a page short. I feel almost feverish. I’m a little afraid of the cave. What might happen. But the pen pulls me along. The pen and that white, beckoning space… I reach the end of the page before I reach the end of the story.

It takes me several more lines to finish. I have to pull out another sheet of paper, but it doesn’t matter. Only the story matters.

Things don’t turn out well for our explorers, I’m afraid. There is screaming, and then silence, and the only thing ever found in the cave was bones.

Time calls Mr. Sniff. I write The End in a flourish.

Mr. Sniff loves my story. So much so that he wants me to read it out loud to the other students. But I am shy, terribly shy. He thinks I’m being silly. Mr. Sniff won’t take no for an answer.

So I find myself standing in front of a classroom of strangers. All fifth-grade students. The first few rows are full of boys. My lips are numb. My legs tremble. The fifth grade teacher is very nice. She smiles at me. Go on, she says. It’s a good story. Everyone will like it.

I stare down at my story. The words seem far away. I start, falter, stop. Try again. I rush through, quickly,  temples throbbing, sweat soaking the paper. I reach the End and stop. A boy in the front row holds his nose. Others snigger. There is polite applause. It is over.

I will  write again. But not for Mr. Sniff, who keeps me after school, who calls my mother at work to complain about me, so often that she complains to me but I will not write for Mr. Sniff. I will go on to write for other people. I will go on to make my living with words.

But the girl who vanished into her story that day in the classroom? She hasn’t come back.

But she is stirring. She is wakening a bit, as if from a long sleep, on this final day of the Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life Story Challenge 2016. All of you, together, have proven to be more powerful, richer, stronger, nicer, kinder than Mr. Sniff. For which I thank you.








The Fading Light Illuminates


Day 30: Behold the village of glass.

Each pane has its own story. Some seem happier than others. The cracked ones at the bottom, have they had a hard life, or were they simply the adventurous ones, traveling out of the village at night, after the light had moved on? Those vines/weeds/trees, are they curious neighbors? Friends? Voyeurs? Art?

We do not know, but we can speculate, by row, by column, by tic-tac-toe,  throwing darts or taking a dream pill that will show us the way without words.

This last thought is tempting. To remove the words and let the picture speak for itself.

But that dark shape, that thing in the village, at the heart, at the center, at the belly of the village… it will not rest. You have seen it, have you not? And now it sees you.

Sunset Through the Broken Windows Photo credit: Alex Markovich

Photograph courtesy of  Alex Markovich, who took this fabulous photograph. He’s a talented photographer living in Russia, and has generously offered his photos for free.

Know Where to Begin

Day 29: Musings

When there is no path to tell you where to begin, how do you start?

A machete seems like a grade-B movie prop. Overkill for such delicate work.

But … is it delicate, what you are doing?

Define delicate and I might answer.

At which point, pronouns crowd the page to confuse the reader – Dear Reader, have patience! – but we continue to ponder with our fingertips and our weapons of choice.

For instance, she pulls her copy of Roget’s Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases (1946 edition) off the bookshelf. Why not a dictionary? Because her dictionary is the size of a small car and Roget is intimately close and accessible.

roget spine.jpg
My slightly battered but somehow noble edition of Roget’s Thesaurus

But, annoyingly, in this instance, uncooperative. The word delicate appears only in support of the ear: as in delicate ear.  A brief scuffle ensues until we find ourselves in Class IV: Intellect. Division: Formation of Ideas. Further subdivided into several sections which bewilder even me, and I have the book in front of me. So we’ll pause for a commercial break (which in our case, Dear Reader, is some white space and a new paragraph).

And a brief droning on, which you can skip, as this is only a smattering of breadcrumbs along the way: Words Relating to the Intellectual Faculties; Formation of Ideas, Communication of Ideas,  Degrees of Evidence, Results of Reasoning: IV. (I.) v: Page [163].

page 163.jpg
View of bracketed page [163]
Note to anyone still reading: the page numbers are in brackets to differentiate from the headings, which are bold, both in word and number.

Page [163] consists of two columns:  The left-hand column is headed 494. (Object of knowledge) Truth.  The right-hand column is headed  495. Error.

We find Truth and lots of other words

Under Truth, I find one trembling word: Orthology. For a moment, I think that Mr. Roget and all of his publishers have made an error – how ironic! – but it was only my mind playing tricks. Not Ornithology, child. Orthology. The study of the right use of words in language. A lovely word to find in a Thesaurus, don’t you think?

But Error has its own reward: mists of error.  Add the letter ‘t’ to the third word and you’d have a Grade-B movie, wouldn’t you? Possibly involving machetes.

Error is a ripe fruit for exploring on so many levels, don’t you think?

How amazing that I have scattered so many words across your path. And told you nothing. But I will give you one truth, plucked from the proper column: I do not know where to begin. No, correction:  I do not know when to begin….


A Party of Violets

Day 28:  Or perhaps a Violet Riot?

There is a new crop of Violets – a bit more than buds, not quite yet blooms – in the plant in the kitchen window. They look so … fun, and curious, as if they’re slowly opening their eyes to the world around them. Their world.

budding violets.jpg

By the way, according to the African Violet Society of America, if your African Violet plant is not blooming, it might be because … it’s happy. Content, even. Here’s a quote from the AVSA website (item 6):

Some African violets become vegetative, meaning they are so comfortable that they only grow leaves. To convert them to being reproductive, you must give them a little scare. Repotting is one method. It also works to tap the pot firmly on a hard surface to create a minor earthquake. This seems to cause the plant to awaken the survival-of-the-species instinct and it will often set buds.

I am almost tempted to try something with Granny. A gentle boo, perhaps? But not yet.

The Spy Inside the Cage

Day 27: A peek behind the curtain… The Iron Curtain.

She called herself Tina.

We crossed paths in West Berlin, where I lived, and she was just passing through.

I worked in the Cashier’s Cage at the Harnack House, which at the time was the Officer’s Club within the American Sector. The work was fairly simple: make change, cash checks, verify membership, keep track of membership dues.  It was also pretty boring.

Until Tina showed up. We were introduced on her first day of work in the cage. The boss said she was ‘filling in’ for a little while.

She was quite talkative, Tina was. She also left her mail lying around and her purse open on her desk. And she talked about her love life. She was dating a married man, an Army Major who worked with my father. Someone I had seen at parties and at the club. None of my business.

Until George Blake escaped from prison. Which I found out, not from the newspapers, but from Tina’s breathless recounting of a wild night out on the town. She and her ‘gentleman’ as she called him, had gone to a private gambling club, where all the talk was that Blake was headed for Berlin, and was going to take revenge on the people who betrayed him.

Well, this was too good not to share, so I told my mother. She said I had to tell my father, because the officer was clearly a security risk.

And that was the end of Tina. Almost. She never came back to work. A few days later, I got a call from an angry friend. Tina had stolen both my friend’s identification card AND her boyfriend and run off to Munich. Tsk, tsk.

Years after, I was watching an old Perry Mason show. The opening scene was inside a bank, the kind of bank with lots of marble and columns and money. An elderly woman wearing a mink coat is greeted by her young niece. And that young niece? That’s the last time that I saw Tina.

Cough, Cough, Hack, Sneeze

Day 26:

Well, I’m sick. I’ve come down with the crud, which might not be scientific (and certainly not specific) but has given me the perfect excuse to  skip day 26 of the 31 day challenge. But if I give up now (what would Edmund Hillary do? Didn’t I just ask him that the other day? Does it matter that he hasn’t gotten back to me?) … but I won’t.

Because it feels as if I’ve spent my life giving up at the slightest provocation. My art, my writing, my goals, my voice.

Besides, it’s only a cold. My husband brought home orange juice. And pudding for my sore throat. He’s fed the cats and fussed over me a bit and then left me to my books and my boxes of tissues.

Life is good. I’ll be glad when I’m well again.

But I’m especially pleased to be blogging with all of you today!

Skies and Sounds

Day 25: Musings

The theme/project of yesterday’s watercolor class was Skies. We practiced using variegated  wash and wax resist.

The image on the left is from a magazine. The paper on the right side is my first attempt at doing wax resist, using a white candle.

I made the mistake of laying down the candle before I sketched in the trees (the white parts in the sky and surrounding the trees are pretty much fixed in place and cannot be changed), so I turned this into a quick sketch of colors and shapes. Not a work in progress, but a decent practice of new (to me) techniques.

the study and the attempt first.jpg

Half way through the class, we heard the wailing of sirens. The art center is one block off of Hwy 98, which runs through downtown, over bridges, across several islands, has distracting views, frequent turns and – on a regular basis, accidents.

“Probably a fender-bender,” murmured the instructor. We went back to our papers and paints.

But the accident wasn’t on Hwy 98. It was about a mile away, at a busy intersection. Someone had run a red light, just as a friend is turning left, heading for work. Thankfully, my friend is okay. Shaken up. Her car is a mess. The other driver, the one who ran the red light, stopped long enough to ask if she was okay. She said yes. He ran back to his car and drove away. But he won’t get far: one of the witnesses got his license plate number.

You never know, do you? How your day will go? Take it easy out there, okay?