weekly writing challenge

The Countdown

 

Asteroids by Nicholas Wilson

Asteroids by Nicholas Wilson

Scientists had first observed the asteroid months ago, but most people didn’t comprehend the magnitude of the consequences. For the first few months after the discovery people suspected some sort of impossible scientific conspiracy, like the big bang, the Higgs Boson, or global warming. Many researchers and pundits were accused of conspiratorial motivations involving a far left or far right agenda. Christian theologians began preaching the coming of the Apocalypse, as if Jesus were somehow riding into town on the asteroid like a holy space cowboy, which in turn led to a dramatic increase in prayer and salacious requests of salvation. Most assumed that between the United Nations, the global industrial military think tank, and brainy scientific literati, some sort of solution would be proposed and executed before the impending strike. Blow it up with nuclear warheads, use rockets to alter its path, blast it to smithereens by lasering into its icy core, construct some sort of giant space blockade out of plastic bags and styrofoam. Human kinds brightest minds would undoubtedly surmise some sort of solution to this impending disaster. For most life went on in a predictable and routine manner, unfazed, despite the fact that asteroid P-52637 was hurtling toward Earth at 280,000 miles per hour, and though there was a level of unpredictability in its trajectory, most models and calculations seemed to indicate it would make a direct impact somewhere in the Northern Hemisphere on December the thirtieth.

After the brainiest engineers’ plans and calculations had proven inadequate in abating the large chunk of space dust’s path, the impending impact grew closer and more unavoidable. Some people became frantic, attempting to live an entire life in the course of a couple days. Others rioted in the streets trying to seize control of their destinies while they still had destinies to seize, looting things like high end liquor, big screen TVs, and surround sound systems, so they could watch the doom and gloom footage in 1080p while they got drunk and tried to forget about it. Not that the shop owners or police cared. Some of them were looting too.

Some people tried to frantically build catastrophe shelters or spaceships in hopes of avoiding the carnage altogether. Others grew despondent and fell depressed into a sort of paralysis, a state prevalent enough to be termed the comet coma. The whole of humanity seemed to be reaching a sort of emotional apex covering the spectrum of possible responses. Anger, sadness, denial, elation, regret, apathy, forgiveness. Most, it seemed, suffered from a strange combination of all these, inducing even more instances of comet coma as the impending impact approached with its promise of blasting life as we knew into the the nether regions of space.

While some became agitated and lashed out at the cruel absurdity of it, more and more fell into their comet comas, still alive on the outside, but lifeless and empty on the inside as if they were already dead. It was an inescapable and vacuous feeling of having everything we had worked for and dreamt of and aspired to accomplish in our lives suddenly taken. Sure we all die, but this felt so much more permanent than death. Most of us hoped that even though our time on Earth was limited to this one life, some small piece of us—a memory, a child, a resume of accomplishments, an obituary in the local paper—would live on past our temporal existence.

Knowing that there would be no tomorrow for any of us somehow made today so much more valuable. I lamented the fact that it had to take this impending catastrophe to trigger this realization. I did my best to avoid the coma and the comatose pacing the streets in despair like zombies. I tried to embrace the sanctity of this moment—of every moment—before these moments spiraled to their cataclysmic end. And as that fiery ball filled the sky and reminded us all of our impending mortality, I climbed onto my roof, popped my best bottle of wine, and lifted a glass to the heavens. It had been a good run.

Cheers!

Posted for the DP Weekly Writing Challenge: Countdown

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.

The Book Hoarder

I’ll admit it–I am a borderline hoarder. I keep things I know I probably won’t need, thinking that in some convoluted wrinkle of fate it will come in handy during a future crisis. In truth, I’m afraid the ironic tendency of the universe will cause me to need any item I  dispose of, most likely moments after the recycling truck takes it away forever. Some items have travelled with me through numerous moves, and though I don’t need it currently, I just might someday, and then who will be laughing?

But books are different. Back during my impressionable twenty somethings I used to love to go to used book stores and peruse the shelves for esoteric and thought provoking books that I didn’t necessarily want to read, but I wanted people to think I read. Sometimes I actually attempted to sit down and read the books, but for some reason or another never finished. I usually read just the introductions or maybe the first chapter so I could sound like I knew what the book was about, in case anyone asked. I wanted to seem all philosophical and well read without actually putting the time in to read. My problem is I am a pretty slow reader and I have ADD. Sometimes I read so slow that I get distracted in the middle of the sentence and have to start over. I can’t read fast enough to keep my own attention.

I bought the books because I was always told that writers must read a metric ton to find inspiration and to learn the craft. I was also told that if you want to be a writer then you should buy books written by other people to support the business. I liked to imagine what my own book would look like on the shelves. At one point I had milk crates full of these used literature and philosophy books that I schlepped around with me so I could put them on my bookshelves and look at them. I have sold and donated boxes of my books in recent years, but not all of them. Some I have held onto. Some I still hold the illusion that I will sit down and read someday, which is why I haven’t gotten rid of them yet. I was curious what books I hadn’t sold, so I went into the garage and looked.

So without further adieu, here are twelve plus one of the outrageous, audacious, and courageous books I found hoarded away in my garage. I will include a jacket blurb, and just what in the hell I was thinking when I bought it in the first place. (more…)

The Stopping

No one knows for sure why it happened. Scientists, theologians, philosophers, politicians–the brightest wavelengths in the human spectrum–each had their own theories. Some thought it was caused by solar winds, or the reversal of Earth’s magnetic field. Some thought the electronic infrastructure had reached critical mass and tumbled like a house of cards when some celestial door had slammed. Some thought that the deities in heaven and hell had all conspired to teach humanity a lesson for millennia of transgressions. Others blamed invisible alien forces. But for all the postulates and conspiracy theories nobody had any proof, and without a comprehensible reason for it a solution seemed impossible. Communication satellites failed. Fiberoptic networks stopped transmitting bits of information. The modern world as we knew it came to a crashing halt.

The implications reached much further than anyone could have predicted. Television and radio transmissions ceased. Cell phones became useless paperweights. The internet recoiled into the darkness of cyberspace. Electricity and petroleum and the capitalist industrial complex all became obsolete, untenable relics. Even guns and firearms stopped working, bullets and missiles suddenly nothing more than worthless props. Money became an outdated meme, with bartering for concrete goods and services the chosen method of trade. The written word once again became bound to paper, meticulously handmade books and pamphlets. The sailing ship and horse returned as the pinnacles of locomotive technology. Community gardens sprang up in every neighborhood and locality as people relearned to feed themselves.

Without computational models and artificial intelligence to help solve the problem, getting back to the old modern ways became an optimistic impossibility. Lacking possible solutions humanity had to adapt, to figure out different ways of living. And lacking the tools that it had become so dependent upon, humanity had to look to the past for methods of survival. The old ways became the new ways. The wisdom of ancients became the blueprints for tomorrow. And while many assumed the world as we knew it was slowly and inevitably spiraling to an end, that it was flickering feebly like a fluorescent bulb on its last legs and about to go dark forever, in truth the sudden change saved humanity from a slow and methodical death by apathy and self absorption.

Nature always finds a way.

Oops (by tobyct on Flickr)

DP Weekly Writing Challenge: A Lost Art

A List of Lists

As someone lacking basic organization skills I find lists very useful. Inside the collection of neural tissue so optimistically called my brain, all my words, ideas, and plans for tomorrow are flying around like bats in a belfry. By writing these things down in list form I am able to find meaning in the madness. I am able to see my ideas, prioritize them and wrestle with sequence. I am able to cross things off and forget about them forever. Whether it is a grocery list, a list of places I want to visit, or even a list of chores I hope to accomplish on the weekend, lists allow me to organize the chaotic jumble of my thoughts.

In fact I like lists so much that I have even gone as far as to make lists of lists I want to make. Making a list of lists is like organizing your organization skills, like vacuuming the vacuum cleaner, like breaking your hand while trying to further break your broken television.  I present to you a short metacognitive list of lists I want to make.

  • Bucket lists are lame. I want to make a fuck it list–a list of the things I would do if I had one day left to live. What would you do?
  • The list of mistakes I didn’t make. This list is much shorter than my list of mistakes and therefore depressing to think about.
  • The list of books I pretended to read in order to seem erudite and cool in college. I used to buy stacks of used books and put them on my bookshelf in the hopes that someone would see them and think I was smart. How dumb is that?
  • A list of heirloom tomato cultivars. Seriously though. The mortgage lifter. The green zebra. The banana legs. The scooby doo. The alien vs predator. Okay some of these may be movies and not tomato cultivars, but they should be.
  • The list of reasons I don’t want to be (and never wanted to be) president.
  • The list of stories I started to write and never finished.
  • The list of places I don’t want to visit, like the slaughterhouse for instance.
  • The list of songs I wish I wrote but didn’t because I have never actually written a song.
  • A list of the times I broke the law and/or got arrested. Thank God for statutes of limitation.
  • A list of ways to drive a teacher crazy. I am currently writing a how to guide about this.
  • A list of lists I want to make. Um, wait a second. Cross that one off the list.

Making a list and checking it twice (by kylesteed on Flickr)

Composed for the DP Weekly Writing Challenge: List Lesson

Now to start working on some of those lists.

One Block Past Sunshine

Depending on which direction you’re traveling, our street is one block past Sunshine Drive. But the direction of approach is important. One block past Sunshine from the wrong direction and you end up in front of a long line of rent controlled apartment complexes, the check cashing place, the laundromat Señor Burbujas, and the shady liquor store my wife is scared to go into. There is also a dive bar called Catfish Charlie’s. Every time I pass by I must fight the urge to go in.

At first I thought it might be a fish market or a sporting goods store, but when I finally found the courage to enter and explore all I found was a dingy hole in the wall that smelled like a stale bar mat. The two guys sitting at the bar each had an eyepatch. What was the chance of that? I wondered briefly if Catfish Charlie’s was actually a pirate bar, which didn’t seem that unusual at the time.

The inside of Catfish Charlie’s was greasy, smokey, sticky. It felt if someone tried to light a cigarette the entire place might ignite, including the two dirty pirates bellied up to the bar. At least the bartender had two eyes. I slid onto the sticky barstool and ordered a Captain and Coke. I wanted to blend in. When the bartender brought my cocktail I realized that one of his eyes was a glass eye that seemed to be pointed in the wrong direction, like a pirate in disguise. I gave him a wink and he gave me a look like he might poke one of my eyes out and make me walk the plank. I pounded my drink and got the hell out of there.

I’m no pirate.


DP Weekly Weekly Writing Challenge: Blog Your Block