Tap shoes, dreams, and dust

gathering dust as forgotten things go

My tap shoes gathering dust.  The dark blotch on the top shoe is my fingerprint.

 

I dreamed of dancing, once
of twirling, gliding, flying
slyph-like
across space and polished floors.
My parents couldn’t afford lessons
so I danced with Judy Forkey, instead.
She was Baryshnikov
to my Kirkland
because she was taller
and could catch me

when I lept.

Later the rage was tap.
Girls who took dance
in the next town over
wore their tap shoes to school
on the day of their lesson.
I loved the

click click click

of metal against
the tiled school floors.
I stuck tacks in the bottoms
of my shoes
trying to approximate the sound

click click click

It wasn’t the same.

Years later
I realized that I was grown up
and in charge of my life
so I bought a pair of tap shoes
and stuck them in my closet
sometimes I took them out
to imitate dance moves
on my linoleum floor
just to hear the

click click click

again.

I can afford lessons
now
when I find the time,
but time is harder to find
than the tacks
I had to filch
from my teacher’s desk
for the faux shoes.

Certainly
harder to come by
than dust.


Intrigued by the thought of leftovers.

How to be happy

Sculpture by Anne Mimi Sammis.  Located at Narragansett Beach, RI.

Sculpture by Anne Mimi Sammis. Located at Narragansett Beach, RI.

 

Lately, I’ve been working on HAPPY — that elusive state of being that people are always trying to achieve.  Seems like a good summer project to me.  I’ve been on antidepressants for fifteen years, and I recently decided to wean myself from them.  I want to see what difference fifteen years of living and learning has done for me.  So far, so good.

As an exercise in mindfulness (or as mindful as my over-active brain will allow), I’ve started making a list of the things that bring me joy.  Sometimes, I surprise myself.

(By the way, my list is not numbered. If you want to know why, it’s because I hate numbers. They are so often used to measure worth, as in too old/too young/too fat/too thin/too short/too tall.  They grade and degrade you. Numbers do not make me happy.  Ever.  If I were a mathematician I would probably feel differently.  But, I am not.)


 

MY HAPPY LIST

Always put butter on your bread when making sandwiches.  Because who really wants dry bread?

Stand up straight.  Your spine will thank you.  When I was in my early twenties I took beginning ballet lessons for a couple of months.  It was hard, but exhilarating.  I know what a plié is.  The ballet teacher taught us to picture a puppet string sprouting from the top of our head pulling us upright. I still imagine this.

Swim in creative waters every day.  See a rose in the dandelion; a butterfly in the wasp.  Paint a word picture.  Sing a story.  Make some noise and call it a song.

If you are lucky enough to have stairs in your home, run up them whenever possible.  Taking them two at a time is even better. Move your body.  Shake it, wiggle it.  Dance your feet off.  Promote yourself to the Ministry of Silly Walks.

Take time to daydream.  Revel in it.  If someone says you’re a dreamer, say — Thank you.  If they point out that your head is in the clouds, tell them  — Yes, I know.  (I’ve had this whole daydreaming thing pretty well mastered since about second grade.)

Always taste the ice cream as soon as you get it home.  The amount of pleasure you get is commensurate with the meltiness at the top of the container.

Be satisfied.  If you can’t be that, be patient.  (I’m holding out hope that eventually I will own a car with four doors instead of two.  It doesn’t have to be brand new.)  Stuff has a shelf life.  Memories last a lifetime.

Embrace your fear.  I am afraid of heights.  This does not bother me.  I don’t believe I am missing out by not conquering this fear.  I have no need to climb mountains, parachute from planes, or bungee jump from insanely high bridges. If anything, I’m increasing my chances of avoiding serious injury or premature death.

Laugh.  Because, endorphins or something.  It’s easier on your shins than running, and doesn’t make you sweat.

Be kind.  Because, duh.  Kindness is as simple as smiling at a stranger.  It reverberates through the universe.

Read out loud, even if it’s only to yourself.  If you have them, read aloud to kids.  The happiness quotient raises exponentially with the number of kids.

Also, just read.  Read for the words.  Roll around in them.  They are lovely. Read for the story; the escape; the characters.  Read for the child you used to be who got scolded for reading at inappropriate times.  You are an adult now. You can read any damn time you want.  (Whoa . . . just writing that last sentence released a whole swirling cloud of endorphins.  I can tell.)


There.  Wasn’t that fun?  Now you do it, go out and create your own list. What makes me happy is not a panacea.  Happiness isn’t a one-size-fits-all kind of thing.  Keep adding to the list. That’s what I’ll be doing.  And if you’ve a mind to, feel free to share the things that make you happy, too.

We’re all in this together.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Twist

fforde ffiesta 08 TwistA whirl of caracters rising upward:
a girl in a green dress
a Hawaiian-shirted tourist
a minotaur
two cheese smugglars
mustachioed
horned
and adorned
disguised
and prized
Ffiesta tomffoolery
for the ffun
of it.


The photo was taken at the DeVere Hotel in Swindon, UK, May, 2008.  The occassion was the second Fforde Ffiestaa gathering for fans of the author, Jasper Fforde.  (You can find out about Jasper Here and Here.) My husband, our son, and I have been attending these events since 2005, because these people are like family; each event has become a family reunion of sorts.  Those of us who consider ourselves members of this wacky, wonderful family are celebrating the fact that this weekend is EXACTLY 12 months away from the next reunion.  We can barely contain our enthusiasm.

Posted as part of the Weekly Photo Challange.

Until a tiny thing trips you up (Flash Fiction)

 

London Eye pm 1

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a mother in possession of a young child must be in want of a crystal ball.

She wasn’t afraid of anything: Smoldering fire; hail storms of passion; blood-sucking leeches, reeking of desire.  Bring it on.  Her hobnailed boots were made for stomping, and she could dance, by god.  She could move.  She could run long and fast and still have breath enough to laugh in the face of all that friction.  Drive a truck with her old life across country toward her future?  Piece of cake.

She, and the man she knew would never try to change her, made a new life in a place where people lived on fried dough and clams.  A baby arrived one winter morning weighing less than the four-layer fudge cake she was planning for her birthday later; a clear-eyed boy careening headlong into the world so furiously that he took her breath away.

But time is a forward moving thing that cares for no one.  It will not pause for one second, no matter how nicely you ask.  She learned this on a ferris wheel as her child laughed between her husband and herself. The wheel lurched forward and backward, filling and emptying, still moving ever upward, and then slowly around and down, where she asked to be let out.  She walked away and watched as the wheel rolled upwards carrying her heart.

She pictured the wheel collapsing, sending the cars flying through the air, saw her husband and her child (who still believed she could make monsters disappear) hurtling downward while she had chosen to save herself.  She could do nothing to stop the inevitable.  Hobnail boots were useless.

She knew that all she had was now.

 


 

Written for the DP Weekly Writing Challenge: Flash Fiction.  296 painstakingly sculpted words.  The limit was 300.  As is usually the case, I chose the photograph first and let it tell me the story.  Apologies to Jane Austin for the bastardized version of her opening sentence in Pride and Prejudice.

Seasonal lake view

looking glass lake 1

From my bedroom window
I happen to glance out and spot the shroud of sun
spreading it’s last light over the horizon.
Before it melts into the woods beyond the lake —
a lake we can only view through trees bereft of foliage,
from an upstairs window —
I grab my camera to document the thrill
of this single moment.
One in millions throughout my lifetime,
each observed and stored in its own place inside my head,
to be retrieved later (if I can find it) and enjoyed again.

Remember this? I’ll ask myself.  Wasn’t it spectacular?

In truth, it’s not likely I’ll remember
this particular sunset
any more than others I’ve seen,
or the thousand other moments
that caught my eye or my breath,
and made me pause to savor it.
Like our seasonal lake view,
obscured by the fullness of nature,
the brevity of moments like this
get lost
in the plenitudes of life.

That’s what the camera is for.

n.b. April is National Poetry Writing Month.  If you’d like to try your hand at the form, or just read good words, check out these links.  Here and Here.

Into the Forest (a story in 50 words)

 

 

Trees like a beating heart.

Trees like a beating heart.

Life was noisy.

Snow fell, and the woods beckoned —

It’s quiet here.  Come in.

Sure-footed, she blazoned forth.

Light slanted through the trees like a promise,

A golden haze whispered, Stay.

Standing beside three trees, red as beating hearts

She found a home inside herself.

Quiet to last a lifetime.

 

n.b.  The photo came first.  I wanted to see whether, not only could I write a story in exactly 50 words, but could I create that story inspired by the photo.  I like a challenge.  Thanks to the WordPress editors for this one.  It took me nearly a week to do it.  Hemingway, I am not.

 

 

 

 

 

Collecting details: In the bleak midwinter

Observing, collecting details as “glimmers of a beginning.”  A way of finding a story to tell.  That was the challenge this week.

in the bleak midwinter

Somewhere outside my window a machine hums incessantly for the second day in a row.  Its motor drones, the constant whirring sound punctuated by louder grinding noises.  Like a monster being fed, its appetite is ravenous.  It will not be sated.  My husband would be at the window checking to see where the sound is coming from, which neighbor has wood to chip this time of year.  But my husband is at work.  And I am too lazy, too disinterested to check out where Smaug is being used.  It doesn’t really matter in whose yard the machine/monster feeds.  Noise is noise.

Our yard has lots of trees and an overabundance of bittersweet.  The vine sidles up alongside the trees, curling a sinuous path out along limbs, growing thick and woody until it has strangled the life from the tree.  In the green of spring and summer it’s harder to notice the bittersweet in its sneaky trail below a layer of dirt, pushing through shrubs and other plantings.  We hack at it and pull it up, but it is incessant and wears us out.  Now, in the bleak midwinter, it is easy to see.  The vine coils around some of the trees, already thick as rope.

It’s the chill this time of year that I mistrust.  The trees stand like stark centurions behind the house, the only time I can see a sliver of the lake that lay beyond them.  The sky cracks like a sheet of glass.  Fingers feel fat and numb in no time in weather like this.  Why would anyone stand outside and feed wood to a machine?  I imagine how easily a monster like that could steal a finger or two.  There are no do-overs then.

A lawyer I know once defended a man who disposed of his wife with a wood chipper.  The lawyer is a kind man, softly rumpled, with hair just long enough to show a tendency to wave.  He wears sports coats and carries a leather brief case that looks like it was a gift when he graduated law school.  He has a fondness for Mark Twain, and reminds me of Atticus Finch.  I wonder what Atticus would make of a man who rid himself of his wife by such ugly means.  There is no nobility in defending such a person.  I expect the lawyer had his reasons.  He enjoys reading Twain, after all.

“Kill the Indian, and save the man.”

My Mohawk grandmother.  This is the cover of the book my mother wrote about her adolescence growing up on the Mohawk reserve.

My Mohawk grandmother, Mary Sawatis Jacobs. This is the cover of the book that my mother wrote about growing up on the Mohawk reserve.

“History is a relentless master.  It has no present, only the past rushing into the future. To try to hold fast is to be swept aside.   — John F. Kennedy

When I was a kid, we’d pile into the station wagon and head to the reservation to visit my mother’s Mohawk side of the family.  My father liked to go there because the men drank beer, fished, and told stories.  My mother liked it, because it was where she felt truly at home.  We kids liked to go because we had lots of cousins, the adults got busy talking, and we were left to look after ourselves. In the summer we swam in the river, and traversed the shoreline, weaving through sweetgrass that smelled like fresh rain.  The cousins taught us how to swear in Mohawk.

There was one church on the entire reservation and it was Catholic.  Father Jacobs was the priest.  He was Mohawk, but also a Catholic priest.  I never questioned this.  The church had a bell tower and a bell rope that hung in the entry.  You could pull that rope down and ride half-way to the ceiling when it was time to ring the bell.

Other than hearing the odd word or phrase spoken in the Mohawk language, or the fact that my male cousins all played Lacrosse, there was not a lot to make the reservation seem much different than the town I was from.  Except that on the reservation, nothing was paved.  There was only dirt and stubby patches of grass. When it rained, people set down planks of wood between their driveway and the door in an effort to keep mud out of the house.  Meals were simple, but hearty.  The items served most often were corn soup and beef hash. Both of which were lovely and delicious and always homemade.  (I guess they also ate a lot of fish, because it was there for the taking, being that the St. Lawrence river wrapped around one side of the reservation, while the St. Regis river cut a swath through the other end.  But I don’t like fish so the recollection of it tends be hazy for me.)

What was missing at that time was festival, ritual, and feathers.  I don’t remember any Native ceremonies or regalia.  There were no sweat lodges.  No pow wows. No moccasin-ed dancing for rain or peace or any other thing.  If we attended church there, it was the same Catholic mass as the one we experienced at home.

The point is, that my comprehension then of what it was like to be Mohawk, to be a Native American living on a reservation, was lacking cultural context.  It was years before I understood why.  I knew that when my mother was growing up, many of her cousins were taken from their homes and placed in an Industrial boarding school in Canada. They were forbidden to speak their native language or participate in native ceremony.  They were there, boys and girls (in separate schools), to be “educated”, which actually meant, to learn to be “white.”

That those schools were often brutal, the quality of education poor, and the food even worse, is well documented.  But Indian schools did more than decimate native cultures, they robbed those children of any value they previously may have thought they had.

Without a culture or a sense of worth, what is left?

My mother’s reservation has come back to their culture slowly, like a long forgotten memory drifting into consciousness once again.  It is not called St. Regis anymore.  We use the Mohawk word instead, Akwesasne.  I love the sound of that.

I began this post on Monday, which was Columbus Day.  In part because of the Daily Post Weekly Writing Challenge, which had as a topic:  Living History.  But mostly because of the day, which my mother cannot let go by without muttering at least once — Columbus, that murdering bastard!

And then I read a piece in the Washington Post which made me wonder again, why do we keep a holiday in honor of a man we now know dealt a brutal hand against the natives of the lands he explored (which wasn’t even America)?  In one of the reader comments, a man asked if there actually were any Indian reservations around these days?  I was about to reply that why, yes, in fact there were many reservations still around, but then I spied another comment a few lines down that wisely pointed out – Do not feed the trolls.  And I realized, of course, it does no good.  You can lead a person to information, but you cannot make him think.

Still.  Can we agree to not honor mean men?  I’d like to believe that history can teach us how to live better.  Kinder.

Maybe one day, we could even get it right.

n.b. The title of this post is a quote taken from a paper read at a convention in 1892 by Richard Henry Pratt, the U.S. Army officer whose brainchild it was to assimilate Indians into a white society.

Who do I think I am?

Like my Family Tree - old, propped up, but still growing strong.

Like my Family Tree – old, propped up, but still growing strong.

My maternal grandmother was full-blooded Mohawk and a devout Catholic.  She wanted to be a nun.  On her way to that vocation she met my grandfather, a tall, handsome white man who was also a state trooper trying to catch her mother in the act of selling whiskey.  It was Prohibition, and Agnes, my great-grandmother owned a speakeasy.  My grandparents fell in love, got married, and my grandfather gave up being a trooper to join his new mother-in-law’s business.  Not exactly a propitious union.  Nevertheless, it produced three daughters.  Only my mother, the youngest, survived childhood.  I was named Mary for that grandmother, though I never got to meet her.  She died when my mother was three.

My paternal grandmother went without a name for weeks after she was born.  My great-grandmother, having recently lost an infant son, wanted to wait and see if this baby survived before handing out a name.  Finally, one of great-grandma’s sisters looked down at my poor, swaddled grandmother and said she looked like a little pearl.  And that’s the name they slapped on the birth certificate.  No middle name, just Pearl and her surname, which was Crawford.  It embarrassed my grandmother, not having a middle name.  When she married she began using the initial from her surname as part of her signature, to legitimize the oddball she always felt she was, as though just the initial of a pretend middle name would make her just like everyone else.  It didn’t, and she wasn’t.  And that was okay by me.

I’ve never looked farther than three generations behind me.  I know nothing besides a handful of family stories that may or may not be true.  I might be related to Franklin Pierce, 14th President of the United Sates.  I might be related to Daniel Webster, statesman and Massachusetts senator.  There might still be a castle in England somewhere with a Stanfield still living in it.  I don’t have a pedigree to tout.  I know that among the generations whose lives I’ve been told something about, most came from England, Scotland, Ireland, and one at least, from France.  Or, like my namesake grandmother’s side of the family, they were already here.

I think a lot about family, about where I come from, and who I am.  When I was about seven or eight, I would stare in a mirror and experience a complete disconnect with the image looking back at me.  Who was that person, I used to wonder?  The face, the stuff behind the face?  Was I real?  I had no clue. (What a strange child I must have been.) When I got a little older I searched the faces of my parents and siblings for  family resemblances, something that would make me feel like I belonged, but  there was such a grab-bag selection of this nose with that jaw and those teeth or eyes, hairlines, cheekbones, hand and foot size that not one of us looked much like the other.  (Later my siblings and I would joke about the possibility of a milkman or two being thrown into the mix.  Except that we bought our milk at the store.)  It still amazes me when I run across families whose members look so remarkably alike that there’s never any question of relatedness.

Like my grandmother, I have also felt like an oddball.  Within my immediate family I used to think I could have been a changeling left on the doorstep by trolls. The feeling has abated somewhat in recent years.  But, sometimes I still feel a little out of sync with the people around me.  What I’m passionate about, what I think about, what I like and don’t like, what I dream.

And I think about the list of ingredients that went into the soup that made me:

A grandmother who thought she’d be wedded to Christ, but chose marriage to another man instead.  She left behind a daughter who was raised by so many other people it took her eighty years to find a place where she feels like she belongs.

Another grandmother who, for want of a middle name, thought herself so much less than she actually was.

Bootleggers, gamblers, drinkers, farmers, a failed blacksmith who played the fiddle, house painters, steel workers, bookworms, librarians – dreamers, all.

And something else.  I look back and see more than just the sum of what they did with their lives.  I look back and see qualities like tenacity, hope, and a desire to be better and farther than from where they began.  All those things are good in soup.

DNA is like a magic show.  I know that sleight of hand is involved, that the trick isn’t really magic, and sometimes I even know how the trick is done.  But it’s still strange and thrilling to observe.  How do geese know to fly south?  How did they know that there was a “south” in the first place?  There are all these questions I have.  In my next life, I think that I’ll study genetics.

Or maybe I’ll just learn to sing.

This post brought to you by the DP Weekly Writing Challenge.

Alice Falls

Kipling's pond pm~The end of Alice~

The pond was deeper than she expected.  Colder, too.  She felt as though she was sliding, sinking, falling down down down to the bottom — wherever that was.  A sudden flash of memory swam by — Dr. Seuss and McElligott’s Pool.  A kid with a fishing pole and a bottomless pit of water that ends up in an ocean somewhere.

Panic set in as it is wont to do when a person is drowning.  Her mind stopped making sense.  Instead, it fired a final desperate thought: This was how the story ends?  Really?

Bummer.

~Alice’s Parents~

“It’s so quiet without our girl,” her father said.

“It’s quiet because Alice was such a clumsy child, always bumping into things.  A walking, breathing cartoon of ungainly girlhood, she was.  Never had her mind on what she was doing.”

“Not true.  Not true at all”, said Alice’s father. “Alice is a lovely girl.  In another story she might have been a dancer.  We could have called her Clara.”

A slender young man strode into the library.  “Clara?  Who’s Clara?”

“Pay no attention to the old coot,” Alice’s mother replied.  “I haven’t a clue what he’s on about.  He’s a crackpot.”

“Where’s Alice?” the man asked.

“Alice doesn’t live here anymore.  She’s moved.”

Alice’s boyfriend was stunned.

“Can you blame her?” Alice’s father said to his wife.  “You were always at her about something — don’t drink this, don’t eat that, put the key back where you found it – nag, nag, nag.  No wonder she left.”

“Are you saying, it’s my fault?”

“Does a donkey bray?”

The ex-boyfriend turned on his heel and walked out without a word.

The bickering continued.  It never stopped.

~Alice makes up her mind~

Alice had never been able to settle.  No matter where she traveled, how many marvels she discovered, it was never enough, because there was always one irritation that she could not shake.  Herself.

Good, God, she was annoying.  Chasing after some elusive thing.

She knew well enough what she didn’t want: Children; factory work; city living; an overbearing husband (or an even-tempered one for that matter, nope, no husband at all, chalk it up to her parent’s lousy marriage for scaring her off that one).  The list grew longer the older she got.  Her problem was she couldn’t decide what it was she did want.

Until now.

Boxes were still stacked in the foyer of the cottage.  Her cottage.  Her new home. Before she began the task of unpacking, she’d gone to a local market and picked up items for a picnic lunch. Sandwich, chips, some fruit, and a bottle of wine.

It was the pond that sold her.  The water lilies spread like a cape over the surface, fish flicking orange tails just below the surface.  She hadn’t thought of having a pond until she saw this one.  And then, when she did, she knew it’s what she wanted all along.

She had one glass of wine.  That’s all.  Something jumped in the water, and it startled her.  She dropped her glass and it broke, cutting her knuckle.  Then she accidentally knocked over the bottle and the rest of the wine poured out onto the grass as the bottle rolled the few feet and plopped into the pond.

“Dammit.”

She figured she’d kill two birds with one stone.  Retrieve the bottle and wash the blood off her finger at the same time.  She thought about a lot of things in her last few minutes.  Like how much she was going to enjoy living here.  She might even invite her parents for a visit, if they were well enough to make the trip.  Definitely put in a garden around the pond.

She could do anything she wanted now.  After all, she had lots of years ahead of her yet, didn’t she?

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

n.b.  The object of this DP Weekly Writing Challenge was to begin a story with the end.  It sounded like fun.  It was fun to figure out.  I hope you like it.