Taking the Writing Challenge

Last night, I posted a Facebook status asking people to give me a topic, and then I will write a poem or short story based on it.  I threw this idea out there, hoping at least one person would offer a suggestion, so that I could practice some spontaneous writing that had nothing to do with my compulsion to only write things that I want to seriously approach for future publication.

I figured this would be a fun challenge that would keep me busy until I fell asleep.

My niece was the first to suggest “Family.”

I immediately decided on a poem, since a few rhymes instantly came to mind.  It took longer than I thought to eek it out, but it got done (despite having had several drinks in me) and I posted it as a comment to my original Facebook posting.  By that point, several other suggestions started rolling in.  Due to the potential length of the writings, I decided that my blog would be the best place to start compiling them.  As of right now, I am not sure how to make it easier to jump to the topic that you suggested for me, so perhaps this list below will help, as you scan through the writings to look for your headline.

I hope yall have fun reading what I came up with and thanks for the topic suggestions!

  1. Family
  2. Compassion
  3. Souls
  4. Laundromat
  5. Power
  6. Merkins
  7. Alcohol (So much to work with here. This is gonna take a while to decide on which to use!)
  8. Bubble guts

Family (suggested by my niece, Tabby)

The dark clouds roll in, as I wonder again,
who…and will there ever be a next of kin?

To wander is lovely, to settle is bleak,
but where is the pillow, where I will find sleep?

I ponder and ponder, as day turns to night,
wondering if I will live to see a bond made so tight-
that I can rest my weary head, and know that things will be ok…
because someone else has my back all along the way.

I guess it’s been here, but it wasn’t so clear,
as life took the turns that it did.
Finding ya’ll was the best gift of all,
and I do not take it lightly. I can only be in one place at one time,
so until otherwise, I will give thanks for you nightly.


Compassion (suggested by my friend Tesa)

I actually wrote this a couple of days before on my typewriter as I was trying to write out my anger about “entitlement” while reflecting on the recent situation in Ferguson, MO in which a police murdered an 18 year old boy.  Although I didn’t write it on the fly, I also decided to take creative license to use it anyways, and then edit it and publicize it through this challenge.

 

Is it really too much to ask for you to understand?

Is it too much?

Do you squirm at the slightest curiosity of sympathy for someone who doesn’t have it as good as you?

Is it easier to brush off the dust of history, like a bad employe who says “That’s not my job…”

Do you feel warm and safe when you go to bed for the night? Are your children tucked in, fed, bathed, and clothed in soft pajamas?

Do you feel confident that they will wake up the next day, and you will too?

Will you arrive at your job that you have never flinched at the thought of losing- when you expressed a different opinion or asked for your vacation time?

Maybe security came easily, or maybe you worked hard for it and you like to make comments every time that you hear the word “Welfare” that no one deserves any of that, and they wouldn’t need it if they just worked hard like you do…

Is it out of the question- to question…that you have enjoyed the fruits of someone else’s labor without having to lift a finger or foot?

Someone, anyone…there must be one person who you were less eager than

less hungry than

less tired than

less stressed than…

and yet, you magically made it to where you are! Hurray! You can pay for your speeding ticket, and groceries, and medical bills, and a thing called vay-cay-shun

and you drove home past the police station without having to stop for a single red light.

How charmed your life is! How lucky you are!

Is it really too much to ask that you might understand that it is POSSIBLE- that someone has worked harder than you, longer than you, tired, on an empty stomach, and drove home from work, stopped by the cops for no good reason, and had to take the bus the next day because their car wouldn’t start.

Is this why there are so many religions? Because so many men do not know what else to do or who else to turn to, after giving their blood, sweat, and tears, and waiting for the trickle down…to pay the bills, to see the fruits of their labor, to feel security that allows them to fall asleep at night.

Is it really too much to ask, for you to try to imagine how you would act or REACT if treated in the manner that he was-she was-they were…during hard times, and financial bleekness, and bad fortune, and family crisis’, so that you can at least acknowledge, AT LEAST ACKNOWLEDGE: at least… in the least…

Without using the logic of a teenager, the sass of a child, the emotional maturity of a five year old…

To acknowledge, “Yes, that sucks.”  “I can imagine how horrible that feels, I can imagine how scary that feels, I can relate to that stress, and that fear, and that anxiety, to that cruel unfairness that can and DOES occur?”

But if it is too much to ask of you, please, don’t give yourself the false title of “Mature adult”, until you have weathered your storms and droughts, knowing that it couldn’t have happened without the grace and mercy of those who believed that you, too, would someday return the favor…or at least…a universal understanding of what it means to be human in this world.

Don’t make the regret their decision to have faith in you as a human being.


Souls (suggested by my sister, Jean)

We had arrived to the graveyard with fresh flowers from mom’s garden. It was All Soul’s day, and we had planned to visit Uncle Clayton’s grave. My mom finally forgave her brother now that he was dead, and although I miss him, it was a nice relief that she could finally just let sleeping dogs lie.

As we approached the grave*, we could see a group of people standing at a grave near Clayton’s, and the air changed in the same way that it does when you walk into the room when someone is doing something that they’re not supposed to be doing.

Our eyes were on them as we walked toward the gravesite, just as all eyes of the group were on us as we approached. Right as we walked up, a man had his back turned to the group and was removing some bricks from the older grave next to our family plot. We stood there in shock, watching this tour guide removing these bricks, and only when I guess he realized our footsteps and the hush of his tour group, did he stop what he was doing and stared straight at us. “I was just replacing these bricks that someone had removed from this poor soul’s grave…grave robbers…always messing things up…”, he stuttered. “Wait a second, I thought you said that you were going to show us some bones and ‘hair-looms’! (heirlooms)”, whined a camera around the neck-hawaiian shirt wearing tourist, as if he didn’t realize that his tour guide had just gotten caught red-handed in a sacrilegious and illegal act of grave robbery as a means of boosting his tour tips.

“I heard about ya’ll!” my mom yelled at him as she walked closer to the group, who dispersed as if they were in the path of someone moving heavy furniture. “How dare you mess with these sacred sites! Who do you think you are! This is an atrocity, and you know what? You know who I’m gonna call? I think you know exactly who I’m gonna call, Mister!” I knew what was happening as the confrontation took place, so I set the flowers down on Claytons grave, and pulled out my phone and snapped pictures of the tour guide, who was partially too flustered throwing insults and idle threats at my mom to notice that I had snapped pictures of the loose grave bricks and cement too. I emailed them to myself and texted them to my girlfriend Suzette incase the man got crazy and chased us down and stole our phones.

The group of tourists just stood their with their mouths dropped, cheeks read, either from the sun, or from feeling ashamed and guilty that that they were going to watch let the tour guide get away with a blatant case of vandalism for the sake of shock value. “Come on mom, lets go, we’ll come back later”, I insisted, knowing that we should just get away from the scene. In one last effort, to fight with the tour guide, she turned back around, hissing “In case you didn’t notice, you were fuckin around next to my family grave, and my brother is fresh in it, so you better watch your back, Mister. Ya’ll have a good day, she sternly looked over at the frightened tourists.

On the street, as we were pulling away, I saw a van with a magnet sign on the driver’s door with the name and phone number of the tour company, so I made mom back up the car real quick so I could shoot the photo. As I realized that I was shaking, I also saw that moms hands were shaking as she gripped the steering wheel so hard that her knuckles were turning white. We headed home to look up the New Orleans Visitors bureau to find out who to report the tour guide too. From working in the French Quarter since I was a teenager, I had heard that there was a bureau of licensing for every little thing out there involving tourists. “I’m gonna tell the Times-Picayune too! This man was going to be sorry he ever stepped foot into that graveyard!”

Clayton was known for stealing money from my mom, to fuel his drug habit during the slow season when he couldn’t get enough gigs to pay for it himself. He was a mean saxaphone player, and although there were a lot of them in town, Clayton was known for being good at both saxaphone and clarinet, so some people would hire him to do both jobs for a record or a show. However, the whole town knew that he wasn’t reliable for long-term projects, so he survived off of individual shows and a recording here and there when someone had the heart and need- to offer him the gig.

The weird thing, was that Clayton was “well off” from a combination of fortuitous events but the money was tied up in material goods and investments that are hard to sell instantly- even for a junkie. At one point, he was making extra money from gambling after getting a little money from an inheritance, and a few years later, he had received some money from the life insurance payment that came after his wife, Aunt Lulu passed away from blood cancer. The poor lady must have known that he wasn’t going to be able to take care of himself after she was gone, and she was right.

Clayton’s luck always came when he was sober, and his addictive and risk-taking personality was often wrapped up in the thrill of larger purchases and high gambling stakes. One year, he bought a mint condition 1958 Chevy Impala from an old couple in North Mississippi who had not a single clue on the true value of it. He was good at spotting opportunity. Sometimes I wondered if he purposefully bought things that he knew he wouldn’t be able to sell when he was messed up, which happened every couple of years at this point. Since I had grown up hearing about his “illness” (which mom called it), I was less worried than my mom, when he had a disappearing spell. He always popped up later and nothing seemed wrong with him, like he had recovered from the flu- it became normal to me.

We thought that Lulu’s death was going to be catastrophic on Clayton and it was. Mom was worried that it was going to be the heartache that did him in, and that is when I began to worry too. A couple of months after the funeral, I walked past a neighborhood club where he was supposed to play, and while the band was standing around sippin on drinks and smoking cigarettes, outside before the show, they asked me if I’d seen my Uncle, because he was supposed to playing with them that night. I already knew that there was a 50-50 chance that they would ask me as I strolled by, because its happened before. They already knew that I hadn’t seen him, but they ask anyways.

“The weird thing”, said Melvin, the drummer and bandleader, “was that Clayton had been at the music shop the day before, picking up some reeds.” “He was piss drunk, but you can tell that he was drunkenly getting ready for the show!” I shook my head and shrugged my shoulders, “Sorry ya’ll.” They all kissed my cheek and said bye as I continued down the street.

Something struck me at that moment, so I took the long way home, to pass his house later that evening.

His front door was open and a few lights were on and I walked up and hollered inside, “Clayton!”

I didn’t hear a thing.

I yelled louder as I walked to the back door, “Uncle Clayton!” and still no word as I walked out into the backyard. There in the hammock was his body lit up from the buglight-yellow porch light.

I ran over to his side, trembling, yelling, “Clayton! Uncle Clayton! Wake up!” while thinking “Fuck fuck fuck shit shit fuck oh god don’t be dead, please don’t be dead!”

He sat up instantly, his eyes wide open with the look of panic, and as he looked into my eyes, he barfed all over me.

At that moment, I was so mad. I was so mad because I was covered in puke, and I had the shit scared out of me as I thought my uncle was dead. He mumbled and slurred, and I thought he was the most messed up I could ever witness, but then he started shaking. At first, I thought he was being stupid and just jittery from coming down off of whatever cocktail he’d drank, snorted, and smoked, but then it got worse. He started convulsing like he was having a seizure and I couldn’t hold onto him without getting whiplash. I pulled out my cell phone and called 911. The best I could do was try to keep him contained in his hammock so that he didn’t hit his head on anything, and it felt like trying to hold a giant squirmy dog like a baby, full of force and muscle reflex and he slipped out of the hammock, and all I could do at that point was keep putting my hands under his head as he flailed around, still trying to talk to the operator.

As the ambulance pulled up, I screamed out to them.

It felt like I had been on my knees forever, holding my hand under his head, and as they ran toward us, I realized that he wasn’t moving anymore.

The paramedics motioned me out of the way as they huddled and lit up the backyard with their energy, measuring his vital signs. They asked me who I was, and after telling them that I was his neice, they said that he was still breathing, but the injury on his head was swelling rapidly, as they called over the stretcher. “He is in critical condition, we will be taking him to Charity. Can you tell us anything abou this head injury?” Confused, I said that I didn’t know anything about his head injury, maybe it was from the seizure when he fell to the ground? “Miss, from the looks of it, he has what appears to be severe head trauma, which often occurs in car accidents, acts of violence, or injuries from falling from high distances.

Dusk had turned to night as I watched the paramedics load Clayton up into the stretcher. At that moment, I realized a warm glow shining above my visual plane, and as I looked up, I saw the words “Hi Lulu” spelled out with white Christmas lights on the roof of the house. Their was a ladder leaned upright against the building, reaching up to the roof, while a hammer still hung by its claw onto the gutter.

*The majority of graves in New Orleans are constructed above ground, often made of brick or cement, or a combination.  In 2013, it was discovered that a tour guide was deconstructing parts of the tombs in order to pull out material from the grave or coffin to show on display to the tour clients.  Legal matters further ensued after the authorities were notified.

http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2014/04/unlicensed_tour_guides_remove.html

(Fiction based on real historic events)


Laundromat (Suggested by Jen Waddlington)

I didn’t know what it was like to live in a house with a washer and dryer until I was 16.

Up until that time, I had lived in apartments for the majority of my life, and we did our laundry in the coin-operated laundry machines provided on the property, usually in a building separate from the actual apartment building.

Eventually, I was incorporated into the chore of “laundry day”, in which all of us would dump our laundry on the living room floor to be separated into a bleach load and a few color loads. My mom would have a roll of quarters that she bought from the cashier at the grocery store or bank, and we would all have to carry over a basket from our apartment to the laundry room.

The laundry room was often a makeshift community space of sorts. It would house the manager’s office, and the maintenance man’s tool room. There would be a bulletin board with flyers about items for sale, service’s offered, a church invitation, or a missing cat. On and off throughout the year, there would be a “Free Box” where tenants would leave items that they didn’t want anymore but would still be of use to someone else. Maybe some ugly clothes, baby toys, plastic cups, or a dirty but working kitchen appliance.

At one particular apartment complex, we had some clothing items turn up missing and presumed stolen. Since we were living in Section 8 housing, there weren’t many tenants washing high-demand designer clothes in those machines, but people would steal clothes once in awhile, no matter how cheap or plain they were. Petty theft comes with the territory of leaving your stuff unattended for an hour or so, in a room that is out of sight from the public; someone is always tempted to obtain something just a little nicer than what they have or perhaps don’t have, when no one is looking.

Living in this particular apartment complex, the tenants were mostly of true working class poverty, while only a couple of families appeared to be finding income through illegal activity. However, there were a few families in which the parent/s were never around, as if their kids were living on their own, usually growing up too fast, without guidance or discipline in their decision making.

I remember becoming friends with a girl who lived there, and we were both 11 or 12 at the time. She showed me her tupperware container full of condoms, on the bus ride home from school. I knew what they were, but I was confused that she needed them. I didn’t have any judgements, but I will always remember feeling confused, like we probably weren’t going to stay friends because she was doing adult things and I was still a kid. Her family moved out of the apartments that year and I never saw her again.

Our clothes weren’t the only items to be stolen during our residence their. We also had our car stolen and vandalized, and although the cops could not find proof to press charges against one particular person, everyone in the complex knew who it was, and it wasn’t his first car theft or his last.

Despite our one incidence of losing some clothing to an assumed theft, my mom’s paranoia about the theft had grown and she would try to demand that my brother or I stay in the laundry room for the entire hour and a half that it took to complete the wash and dry cycles.

After a couple of times of bringing over books or trying to play games and stay occupied, we began to hate standing guard over our laundry and soon rebelled at the belief that it was unnecessary. Sassy adolescent comments were made about how we were poor and didn’t even have nice enough clothes for someone to want to steal. These fights about staying in the laundry room eventually led to defiance. My mom would eventually watch the laundry herself, until she gave in and stopped standing guard over the laundry as well, but always going to check on it every once in awhile.

Thinking about the laundry room, and the family fights that ensued over it, I will always remember it as the time when I started learning how the world works- where some neighbors might steal your stuff, and that’s life. You can’t waste your time sitting around and watching everything you own all day. The laundry room was always empty unless someone was coming or going, because no one else was going to waste their time.

It wasn’t a deep philosophical lesson, but just one of the steps in understanding the world and human nature a little better, while growing up. However, I have only had one more item stolen in a public laundromat setting over the 20 years since that day.


Power (suggested by Mad Marquis)

You can travel and travel and travel and still arrive somewhere unknown, gripped in fear, no matter how familiar the periphery.  In this case, I was just on the southwestern side of my home state of Texas.

I-10,

Traffic jam.

Seeking cheap gas and breakfast, while passing signs in Spanish and English.

Mountains and hillsides stand in the distance, with a threatening despair that says to me “You will die out here and no one would know”.

I feel on edge, not knowing why.

After filling up the gas tank, I head across wide dirty highway for breakfast-to-go at IHOP.

I am on the road, but I have a schedule to meet, no time for sitting around in diners.

I eat the eggs in the drivers seat, with plans to finish the pancakes and bacon while driving, as if they were a bag of potato chips.

I scan the radio station for an upbeat tune to help keep my spirit awake after a rough night’s-half-sleep in a desert rest stop. As I wrap up my front-seat-of-the-car-breakfast, I back up, and wait a second to let a man cross the parking lot. We make eye contact as I casually sit there, allowing him to pass, and I know that he notices my pink hair as I notice the diamonds tattooed above and below his eyes like that of the comedy and tragedy masks. I vibrate in solidarity upon seeing his diamonds, and I secretly wish him better luck for his future, than the lack-of, which I already know, has troubled his past.

Something about this town scares me, but pulls me in, and I make the first left turn that returns me westward. I park near a chain link fence, topped with razor wire, and I walk up, gazing over the brightly painted homes leading up to the hillside, before they make an abrupt halt.

Painted, or built into the hillside, I read, “CD. Juarez. LA BIBLIOTECA ES LA VERDAD”.

“Juarez…”, I think to myself, now I know why my psyche senses an unease. Deep down in the geographical knowledge of my mind, I knew that El Paso bordered this Mexican city, but sometimes you forget what you know until it is right in front of you. Up until that moment, I was more concerned with not passing out from back pain and exhaustion from the 10-14 hour drives that I had forced upon myself in order to meet my ridiculous and short West Coast tour schedule.

I recount my Latin American studies, and the documentaries about the violence, kidnapping, and annual mass-murders of the women of Juarez, Mexico. Academics theorize that acts of violence like this always reflect someone’s desire to maintain control and power when they feel that they are losing it.

I drove around town and looked at a few murals and local architecture, and before leaving, I prayed for the women on the other side of the fence.

I am not Christian, or religious.

But what else is there to do, when your body walks the streets, and drives the span of the country, without the threat of terror that cuts women off from arriving to work or arriving back home, vanished forever.

As a flash of survivors guilt hovers over me, and I pray that they may one day feel the freedom that I have on this side of the razor-wired fence, knowing that my prayers are falling on deaf ears.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/24/world/americas/wave-of-violence-swallows-more-women-in-juarez-mexico.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

#nonfiction #memoir #juarez #elpaso #tour #femicide


Merkin. A Poem. (Suggested by Jamie Coffey)

Someone be twerkin in a merkin…And as you see me smirkin, you know later I be jerkin…

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