Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Remembering Family



This is how I will always remember them,
Anya as the baby, Elias as the little boy,
and Greta full of doggy exuberance.
They are not dead, to be remembered
in that way, but they are not me,
and it seems I have not always done
my best to get around this separation
imposed by clinging bits of stardust.
Greta is farthest along, 84 in dog years,
and likely the first to go into the mystery.
I come in second, having just turned 47.
I think I must be past the halfway point,
probably well past, as I slouch and sigh.
The picture captures something vital to
who I am, who I want to be, who I will be.
What bright shining souls reside in these
bodies of varying size and temperament!

They are my lot, they are my love, they are my life.



***


Saturday, February 06, 2016

I Will Not Write

Today I will not write.  Instead, I will look through my photos and dream up ways of manipulating them using some apps and my imagination.  Something in the photo will dictate the story it will tell.  It is usually my kids that I find so a-muse-ing and they are ready subjects for photo-snapping.

A crop will rid it of the extraneous information not necessary for the story, things that distract the eye from seeing what I want it to see.  If it is not too busy and there is the right amount of contrast b/w light and dark, I may use a black and white treatment to further reduce the  distractions of odd and varied colors.  Black and whites have been some of my most beloved images.

If the color is the thing, it may be too orangey or not intense enough, things easily fixed by adjusting the warmness and saturation.  Is there something front and center that needs to pop out of the picture?  Well then, there is a subtle vignetting that can be done around that central figure, but not too much, don't want to look amateurish.  All of these things can be done with a straight forward photo editing program or app.

But, sometimes that is only the beginning of the fun.  There are a dizzying number of filters that can be applied to varying effects, to make it look older, weirder, or more wonderful in fantastical ways.  It is a creative spark that flew off my newborn son eleven years ago and lit on my heart, setting my imagination on fire...  Oh wait, I just wrote.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Seeing Stars



It was a warm and breezy night outside of my army base in South Korea.  I had just finished teaching an English class in the small town of Dongducheon and was out on a walk with two of my students.  One was a Korean Army officer and the other a female display designer who worked in the small mall inside my base.  We wandered the streets until quite late and ended up sitting in a circle on a patch of grass just under the imposing Indian statue of the 2nd Infantry Division.  

Our conversation meandered for quite some time until interrupted by someone bellowing in a drunken manner.  Coming around the corner from the direction of downtown was an imposing but obviously intoxicated Korean Marine in uniform accompanied by another Korean man in civilian clothes.  We watched with some amusement as he swayed and blustered his way down the sidewalk yelling at any American within earshot.  His friend had the unenviable task of trying to steer him away from trouble.

I guess it should have been obvious he was looking for a fight, but I had the unshakeable conviction that no one meant to do me harm.  I had put myself in many iffy situations during my time in Korea and had come out unscathed, convinced I was invulnerable if not invisible.  My Korean companions were a little less sure of the situation and suggested we get up and go elsewhere.  I assured them I was not scared as the uncharacteristically large Korean male stumbled my way.  I did not look at him though I knew he was following the sidewalk that wound around the base entrance and passed only a few feet from where we sat under the statue.

I tried to resume our conversation and for a few moments it was quiet again.  When I heard him again it was very close and just to my back left side.  As I turned my head to look up at where the noise was coming from, I briefly saw a large hand descending fast and hard.  It connected with the side of my head whipping me around and down to the ground.  The world disappeared as my eyes stopped working and all became black, followed by little flashes of light like brilliant stars twinkling in the night sky.  Dazed, I pushed myself back up into a sitting position and heard my male companion yelling at the Marine and his friend.  As my eyesight started to clear I saw him grab the Marine's leg and lift it up while pushing him back and off balance.  He then yelled at the friend, telling him to get this guy out of here.

The Korean girl's eyes had grown as large as saucers.  "Are you OK?" She asked.  I smiled and told her I was fine, though I was still in a bit of a fog and felt a little nauseous as well.  It's little wonder that the blow didn't kill me and surely there was a lesson there for me to learn.  Unfortunately, it took several more years, getting married, and having kids before it truly sunk in.  Denial is a son of a gun.


***








Monday, February 01, 2016

The Things They Carried





I am reading Tim O'brien's "The Things They Carried" and just learned that he was 43 years old when he began writing this collection of stories of his time as an infantryman in Vietnam.  The strange thing is, it was three years ago that I took up the pen to begin writing about the things I remembered and I am 46.  I'm thinking there must be some kind of developmental switch that gets thrown in your brain soon after turning 40.  He perfectly describes my experience with this metaphor:

"But the thing about remembering is that you don't forget.  You take your material where you find it, which is in your life, at the intersection of past and present.  The memory-traffic feeds into a rotary up in your head, where it goes in circles for awhile, then pretty soon the imagination flows in and the traffic merges and shoots off down a thousand different streets.  As a writer, all you can do is pick up a street and go for the ride, putting things down as they come at you."

Sometimes these streets are well demarcated and pull me into the flow easily.  Sometimes it is a narrow back way that is hard to follow but compelling to the point I feel I have to try and work it out.

I've noticed that the flow is most full and true when I allow myself to be vulnerable, to look on my younger self with some degree of pity and compassion.  So much of the pain and loneliness of growing up was covered over by denial which was what kept me from writing for so long.  All of those years I wanted to write, but was afraid to concretize my experiences in words.  It's like I wanted the water to flow under the bridge.  I fought the urge to bottle it, afraid of what I might find.

Like O'brien, I have to carry out these ideas mostly in fiction-form because memory is patchy and there are gaps to fill if I want to capture the essence of what I remember.  Unlike O'brien, this is not a full time gig and I only have rare moments to catch-as-catch-can.  But I think it is important to make the effort.  It was Socrates who said, "the unexamined life is not worth living" or at least I think he said that.  My memory is not always all that good.


***

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Clock Man and the Infinity Witch


Inspired by Elias's story The Clock Man

They had met before,
Clock Man and
the Infinity Witch,
several times, in fact.
The struggle was real
and it was intense,
waged through all
space and time.
He was into dividing and
she was into multiplying.
Her powers made
his clock face spin,
an attack of timefulness
resembling timelessness
in a way that frustrated
his need to assert limits.
He tried to capture her
in a net of days, even
an explosion of years,
but she off-stepped them
in the time it takes
to say "Death has died."
Clock Man's days were numbered.



***

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Dair Mar Elia has Fallen



I stood in the monastery courtyard on the outskirts of Mosul
and watched the blackbirds fly silently over my head,
the war quickly forgotten, like a bad dream upon awakening.
They did not bring me bits of bread as they did St. Elias,
but instead dropped morsels of memory, missing my
two year old son and his mother many a thousand miles away.
Like a sentry, I wandered the high walls and looked out upon
a graveyard of military vehicles rusting in a nearby field.
I visited the cells where prayers could be felt echoing down
the centuries despite cycles of violence and destruction.
Ten years later I learn it has been utterly destroyed
with no stone left to sit upon another, like a piece of
lunar landscape dropped from the sky, devoid of grass
for grazing, the blackbirds gone to find another place to rest.


***



Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Tether




It felt like his luck was running out,
tether let out inch by inch, year by year,
anchored in the bedrock of the remote past
when his beliefs were unshakeable.

If things got rough he would give it a tug
to feel the familiar tension and sigh deeply,
content that, if nothing else, he was secure.
Until, mid-journey, his life began to unravel.

The rope lay limp in his white knuckled fist,
heart sinking like a stone, eyes wet and weary,
his attempts to control his destiny, waylaid
by Grace burning with a white hot fire.


***