creative nonfiction

Intrinsick Mag

Launching November 1, 2015 – Intrinsick Magflowchart

INTRINSICK MAG’s goal is to publish one memorable story per week beginning sometime in November 2015, or whenever we can collect enough quality submissions to ensure our unpredictable standards of quality can be upheld.  Our style is humorous, quirky, unusual, unbecoming, uncomfortable, or, best case scenario, a misguided hybrid of all these. Genre is not important, so long as the story is amusing and unforgettable.  Fiction or creative nonfiction, 2000 words or less. Check www.intrinsick.com for guidelines and more info.

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Mork from Ork

mork

This photo came to me in a box of my father’s stuff. My stepmom had collected a bunch of my father’s belongings into a cardboard box after his death, which she then gave to me. It was filled with some of the random and wonderful things he had collected in his later years, including autographed baseball paraphernalia, antique stock and bond notes, random old movie posters, strange prints and artwork, and some wonderful photos of him and me together. Most of these photos were framed and were pictures I had given him for his birthday or Christmas or father’s day. This one was a card I must have made him for Christmas, which explains the ribbons and frame made out of wrapping paper. I’m sure the inside read something witty, such as… like father, like son. You see in the picture we both have casts on, him on his ankle and me on my arm. Hilarious irony.

This particular photo sits on my desk, and seeing it everyday has somewhat diminished the memories it dregs up. So many memories I don’t really want to talk about. I don’t want to talk about my dad’s amazing red pants and matching turtle neck, or the crazy blonde mop of 80’s hair perched on my head like a wig, or my patriotic tube socks. I don’t want to talk about the thumb cast that I got after badly dislocating my thumb while trying to roller skate down the paved cliff in front of my house with ski poles. I don’t want to justify what I was thinking at the time, having witnessed my cooler than cool neighbor place skateboard trucks on an old Rossignol ski and go plummeting down that steep hill numerous times, and my own sad attempt to replicate the feat with cheap roller skates and ski poles, which ended tragically for both my thumb and one of the ski poles.

I don’t want to talk about the Mork from Ork shirt that I’m wearing, or the rainbow suspenders (thankfully not pictured in this photo) that I just had to have to show my affinity for the crazy alien from Ork. I’m guessing this photo was probably taken around 1980, and I don’t want to talk about how my father would have been roughly the same age as me now. Mork and Mindy was one of my favorite shows, not only because Robin Williams played this amazing and hilarious alien that made funny sounds and flew to Earth in a giant egg, but also because my younger sister’s name was Mindy. Hilarious irony once again. I would pretend I was Mork and then we would became our own sad little version of the show, even though my sister never wanted to play along. I would say things like nannu nannu, shazbot, fly be free while she played with her Barbie dolls. When Barbie landed on her head at least she didn’t break open like an egg. I don’t want to talk about my parents’ separation and eventual divorce, about how my father and mother argued so much and with such venom that I was glad when he eventually left. I don’t want to talk about how I saw less and less of him as time went on. I don’t.

I don’t want to talk about how much I miss my father , and definitely don’t want to talk about the bicycle accident in 1994 that left him a quadriplegic, leaving him bed ridden and confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his days. I don’t want to talk about the grief and depression I felt after the accident as I watched him spiral closer and closer to the proverbial drain. I don’t want to talk about how he had such a profound effect on my outlook and life that went largely unrealized until it was too late. Sometimes we don’t realize how important such influences have been until they pass tragically out of our lives, and a different point of view provides us with perspective that is simultaneously enlightening and heart breaking. After they’re gone all we have left is a box of random stuff which we go through again and again trying to decipher some deep profundity and meaning. I don’t want to talk about that.

I don’t want to talk about how I was looking at this photo when I learned that Robin Williams had killed himself, or about how affected I was by it. I don’t want to admit that, much like my father, Robin Williams had a profound but unrealized affect on my perspective in life. Judging from the tributes and stories being shared across the interwebs I sense I was not alone in this connection. I don’t want to talk about how depression is an unrelenting bitchslap, or how someone that could have brought so much joy to so many millions of people could be so dark and troubled inside.  I don’t want to talk about how this makes me realize that our time in this life is limited and a thing to never take for given. I don’t want to talk about how the world can suddenly seem so much smaller when someone with such profound unrealized impact is suddenly gone, and all we are left with is a box of Mork and Mindy, Dead Poets Society, and Fisher King to sift through and try to remember and forget at the same time.

And above all, I don’t want to talk about how these two tragedies will now somehow be linked in my mind because of this picture.

I just want look at this photo and appreciate that moment, without all the other stuff it brings up.

Shazbat!

RIP Ralph Hager (1939 – 2006)

RIP Robin Williams (1951 – 2014)

 

Aloe Vera Love

aloe flowerI originally bought this little Aloe plant when I was a sophomore in college more than 20 years ago. I remember going down to the local Westside Santa Cruz Nursery and picking out two little succulent plants—a Euphorbia trigona that eventually grew about five feet tall (and I have no idea what happened to), and this little Aloe vera. I wanted to create an indoor plant haven in the breakfast nook area of the house my friends and I had just rented. Every plant placed in that space flourished wildly, and that sunny little breakfast nook soon became known as the jungle room. Every plant in the jungle room was so happy. I even had a coffee plant that flowered and produced about 20 coffee beans, something I’ve never been able to recreate.

Fast forward about five years. I was beating a hasty retreat, having purchased a van and dedicating myself to the lifestyle of a nomadic surf bum, I was finally moving out of that house and liquidating many of my assets. Not trusting this particular collection of roommates, I started giving away many of the plants in the house to responsible non-alcoholic types, including the enormous  Yucca I had brought to college with me.  I wanted to take the Euphorbia to live with me in my van, but its length and spines made it impractical in that small space. So I decided to take my Aloe vera with me instead. After about 2 weeks living in my van it became apparent that the environment was too extreme for the Aloe. It was not happy with the daily temperature swings, and a couple times it had baked in the direct midday sun, a definite no no for an Aloe vera. After only a couple weeks it already looked wilted and sad, shrinking a little everyday instead of growing. I realized I had to give it away if I wanted it to live, so I gave it to a friend that lived close to the Boardwalk. She planted it in sandy ground, in a protected little corner of her yard, and the plant grew with renewed vitality.

A couple years later, when I was no longer living in my van, I was presented with a gift from the same friend, a little Aloe vera pup she had dug out of her yard and potted. I have been doting over it carefully ever since, and it has grown large and impressive for an Aloe vera. It flowers 2-3 times a year, and usually produces about 7 seeds that never sprout. I have a large container full of frozen aloe leaves in my freezer, which has become my way of preserving the leaves broken off during the tumult of life.  I had loved something and let it go, and a little piece of it had made its way back to me.

I’d like to think it loves me too.

Posted for the DP Weekly Writing Challenge: Memoir Madness

The Impermanence of Memory

“Memories warm you up from the inside. But they also tear you apart.”

― Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore (via goodreads)

 

Back before the Fall

Back before the Fall

On a recent trip to the doctor my mom and sister were driving home and were stopped at a red light. Plastered on the bumper of the car in front of them was a bumper sticker declaring, Joy Comes From Within.

What do you think about that, Mom? Joy comes from within.”

I can almost hear the annoyed sigh my mom must have made. “Joy come from within, huh? Well, let me know when it comes out.”

This has become an inside joke amongst us as we battle for meaning in the face of my mom’s Alzheimer’s. We will remind ourselves that joy comes from within as we laugh in the face of the depression we feel. These are the memories I will hold on to. I don’t want to remember the tears, the confusion, the sad pleas for help. I want to remember the joy that comes from within.

I have accepted the fact that my mother is dying slowly, not unlike my father. Her path will be different, but the destination will be the same. In my father’s case his body went before the brain, while my mother’s descent will proceed in the opposite order, her mental state deteriorating until the body fails. I often wonder as I watch the Deer Hill Dinner Theatre which is preferable, to lose control of one’s mind or one’s body. When I struggled through those years watching my father battle his own body after his accident, many of his favorite things in life taken from him as a C-4 quadriplegic, I could imagine no greater tragedy than being confined to a wheelchair. But having seen my mother’s sad dive into dementia, I realize that there are so many important parts of life that stay unappreciated. How many people give thanks for the ability to walk, the ability to feed themselves, the ability to remember yesterday? How many people truly understand the significance such simple actions?

Seeing the people you love suffer is not easy, but the shock is somehow eased through the process of acceptance. In the case of Alzheimer’s, what is perhaps saddest is that my mother herself will never be able to reach this final plateau of the grief hierarchy, that she will never be able to embrace her condition and comprehend the trajectory. Not only is she unaware that she has a disease which will eventually destroy the part of her brain that controls the autonomic function of her internal organs, but she has no idea that she is even sick. Another cruel trick of fate. She still calls the disease old-timers, and considers her memory only slightly hindered. Sometimes she has a moment of lucidity and realizes that something is wrong with her, but cannot understand the implication of the reasons before the moment fades away. My father was well aware of the fate that eventually awaited him, and I’d like to think he was able to accept it and move on. I often wonder if that gave him closure.

Closure is another ambiguous term that gets thrown about when people discuss grief and loss. Is it coincidence that the fifth and final step of the standard lesson format most teachers learn in their training programs is called closure? Closure provides summary and context. Closure deepens understanding through scaffolding and connections with preexisting knowledge. Closure creates a bridge between what happened today and what will happen tomorrow. Closure is supposed to be the part where the other portions of the lesson introduced earlier come into focus, leading to deeper meaning and understanding. Closure is when everything gets wrapped up in a neat little package that students can take with them. It is considered the most important part of the lesson, and is also the hardest part to get right. Unfortunately not all lessons can be so easily wrapped up with a bow. Some lessons are open ended and ambiguous. Some lessons remain ongoing and aren’t ready to be closed. I felt that if I transcribed all these memories and saw them on paper, that meaningful closure would come to me. I am still searching for it. I know it must be here somewhere.

From all this I am reminded above all that I have lots to be thankful for, but in the tumult of daily life it is easy lose sight of this fact. It usually takes tragedy to remind us of these things we should be thankful for, which ironically is a tragedy in itself. Must we really have something taken away from us before we can appreciate it? Is it that absence makes the heart grow fonder, or can we never truly see that which is right in front of us? Are we destined to lament and covet what is missing rather than exalt and celebrate the amazing abilities and relationships we still possess?

These memories of my father and mother are the memories that have shaped me, and I hold on to these memories tight, afraid to let them go. Some even argue that our memories make us, that without our memories we would not be the same person. I’m not ready to tackle this debate, in truth. But in order to prevent forgetting I will continue to write them all down, everything that makes sense and especially everything that doesn’t. I will read it over and over and try to reach an understanding of what it means. Hopefully the act of writing it all down will prevent me from forgetting. Somewhere in this act I will find closure.

Understanding now that the persistence of memory is never guaranteed, I don’t want to lose these memories, no matter how painful, because if we don’t have our memories, what is left?


 

Written for the DP Weekly Writing Challenge: Memoir Madness

I had been working on this piece to publish this Wednesday, but decided to publish a little early for the Weekly Writing Challenge.

What do you think? Any feedback, advice, or constructive criticism is always welcome.