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From the writing group

10-minute free writes inspired by weekly prompts

If you look closely…

If you look closely you’ll see a ring of guardians standing around you. To look closely in this case doesn’t mean to squint, or even to soften your gaze and let everything blur so that the invisible comes into focus. No, this is a different kind of looking. The hardest kind. How easy it is to forget how held we are. How protected. How cheered.

It took my friend Justin reminding me yesterday that he is one of the many who stands in my circle, like a ring of redwoods. A population of spirits: living, dead, yet to incarnate, or just fine to hang out on the other side for all eternity. They are layers deep. If you look closely you see their faces, one at a time, many at once.  

You see their hands, held in one another’s, held up in blessing, busy knitting or painting, or with birds perched on their fingers. Beckoning. Patiently unlocking the cages you insist on building and rebuilding. Sometimes striking matches and burning them down. All the better to see them, my dear.

Ah, you are starting to see now, aren’t you? Just like time itself, lineage is not linear. It is a ring. A series of rings. Ever-widening circles, as Rilke says. That persistent spiral – the shape that everything takes, if you look closely.

They stand near, and far, and as you make the circuit of your life—moving farther each time from the core wound, but visiting it again, repeatedly, endlessly—you also pass each of them.

They offer a hug, a handshake, a bow, a good, long look into their eyes – into their own memories of forever, the galaxies they’ve traveled to – and you remember that you are oh so small and you are never, ever alone.

If you look closely you’ll see that the center of you has its own eyes, ones that know where you came from and where you’re headed. It pulls you to the ones who remember when you forget. Who utter, “I am here, and I always will be.” And with those words a light flicks on, and suddenly you needn’t look closely any longer. You can see them perfectly well.

I am tired of …

By Hao Tran

Whenever I came home, my father called out: “the American.” I didn’t think of it too much until years later. Had he meant it as a tease for my weight and baldness, my relative wealth, or something more?

My father lived through three wars, all his life almost, was a POW for seven years after the fall of Saigon, tried to be an American here in California, and then decided to go back home in a small poor village to live the rest of his days.

I often think of his calling me the American because I am not sure if I feel that way. After 45 years of living here, eating American food, speaking American language, working in the Federal Government, I still don’t feel that way.

Lately, all I heard in the news is the evacuations from Kabul which seemed quite orderly to me compared to the last days of Saigon. If not for the 13 dead young soldiers, all will have been forgotten in a matter of weeks. Then the repeating, reliving of 9/11, the tragic attacks that killed thousands of Americans. Oh, so sad.

And yet, I still don’t feel American. What I feel is a bigger, broader and deeper pain for the world. We don’t talk about millions of Vietnamese, Laotians, and Cambodians, and thousands (upon thousands) of Afghans, millions of amputees who still need artificial limbs, rubbles that have been bombed over and over.

If it is all about America First, count me out. I want no part of it.

If it is “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn,” I don’t want any part of it.

We need to get off our high Suburban SUVs and the 60 thousand-dollar Teslas and look around.

Go with me. Be a vagrant for one day.

Please scream inside your heart

“Theme parks in Japan have banned screaming on roller coasters, because it spreads coronavirus…. and advised riders: “Please scream inside your heart.”

– The New York Times, July 2020


Yes, scream
Shatter its walls
Let the shards and the goo
and the light spill out
Let the lava infiltrate your being
    and then burst that open too

You say you’re about to crack. Good.
Let go, crack, crack up, crack loose
Crack so that it scares everyone
Crack so that you lose all your friends
    all the respect
    all you’ve been so fastidious about building

Nobody, dear. Nobody has ever known what they’re doing
The ones that do
ask questions
    constantly
    Forever
    undermining
    their own premise.

Foundations are shaky at best
Wobbly, like your reclaimed wood desk

Actually no, shaky isn’t best—
Muddy is.

Let the shards of yourself
sink into the silt
    Wriggle downward
    Find soil
    Take hold
    Sprout anew
    Fight through
    Wilt
And try again

Please scream inside your heart
Let the scream echo against the cavernous walls
now that you’ve cleared the detritus:
Everything you thought you were meant to keep safe
    build from
    treasure always
    pass along

It went up in flames the second you laid claim to it.
Since then you’ve been grasping at ghosts
Sticking price tags on illusions
Chasing them hungrily down aisles with your empty shopping cart
    With all your might. With all you have.

Please scream inside your heart
Scream, “Stop!”
Scream, “Enough!”
Scream, “Don’t you see?”
Scream
I     DON’T     NEED    YOU     TO     SEE     ME    ANYMORE

Careen past the other shoppers and out into the sea
Stop trying to be clear or transparent or
    Colorful or
    Opaque

Lay down your street-performer juggle-balls and wade into the water.

Please, please scream inside your heart and set your essence free.
Every single thing your heart can see is in the way.
Scream past it. Scream it open. Scream it free.

Body scan, then write

Foot on the gas, the brake, gas brake gas brake. The echo of it in my right shin.

“Uh-oh!” I said out loud when the truck in front of me didn’t begin moving the instant the light turned green. The old Boston driver coming back. The only place I’ve ever been aggressive: behind the wheel.

“Uh-oh!” The most passive-aggressive phrase I could have mustered. Northern California has fully infiltrated the psyche but not the body. Another four seconds and I would have driven under that truck. As it was, I maneuvered a dangerous swerve around its right flank it as it made its perfectly timely, perfectly safe, perfectly unrushed left.

Me, though: gas brake, gas brake. Rev rev stop. Rev. Stop. Go go go. We’re supposed to be going now. Drumming my fingers at every red light. Every meal. Every episode of Jeopardy that counts as quality time with my husband. Every moment of lying in bed, not asleep but too tired to accomplish anything of note. Scroll, then. Shop. Hypnotize self with a reality show in miniature. No use reading: my eyes simply scan the words while my mind whirls. The flywheel again. It doesn’t stop. Too much momentum. Too much to do. Too much.

Gas brake. Gas gas gas, rev, rev, motor uphill, careen down. Brake for the turn, or not. List sideways and nearly tumble off the cliff. Careful!

A few days ago I heard a silence so silent I knew it was the earth speaking. No other voice could be that deafening. My shin bones become the stalks of the redwoods, the columns of the cathedral, the ode to the everything. Equal weight, gravity. They know no brake, no rev, only reverence. They stand in holy stillness.

I always felt I must

By Tess Bradley

I always felt I must change.And I reason that this is not only a function of my family conditioning, or A-meritocracy or some larger socially constructed system where internal pressure is spawned by the outside. I am somehow convinced that I must change because I am evolving.

I want to pull off the velcro of my past. I want to pull the past off of me with a loud, satisfying noise that rips open like a rain rattle, like the single most satisfying belch ever to light up the inner esophageal and intestinal universe. Bbbbbrrrrrrraaahhh!

I’d become an air plant. I’d be one of those seedlings that can fly! A dandelion daughter protégé. Set up a second life as an expatriate to this continent, this island, this Earth.

I always felt I must change.

Memorize the capitols, start each day with reading the news, breathe through my diaphragm, and get married. Knowing I’ll do none of these things, and the tension building.

Completion is a point on an arc. I must follow that arc. First, I must build the Arc. I must believe that two by two I will be saved by God through following his explicit diagrams.

Let me fill in some of these holes! I see my mother bracing and astounded as I speak at the table to her friends.

This desire to change and the pressure to be-someone-who-is-complete shoot me out of a canyon again and again.So how can I blame myself for flying over your head?

When I Get Home

By Jan Martinez

What is the feeling of home? That quality that confirms we’ve landed safely and gently into some sacred, familiar ground? It’s a worthy question and one I ask because how else will we know? It isn’t just the shape of the door through which out bodies and hearts can pass so easily. It’s much more than that.

I recall my second, or was it my third, trip to Ireland, landing to familiar air and moisture, landing into an abundance of greenery. Then falling into that soft bed in that chilled room, the radiator oh so slowly pumping out heat to penetrate the cold. But in that space I felt the lyrical hug of the entire island envelop me. Home, I felt.

Or the second time I visited Bali, leaving Denpasar, driver circling statues of Gods I didn’t know, but who maybe did know me. That mixture of smells—exhaust fumes, incense, smoky champaca filling the air, the regular offerings of reverence. And even as we’d landed physically after 36 hours of travel, I felt home.

Here, surrounded by my 100-year-old lady of a house, I feel it most intensely. The way her creaks and quirks have settled into my bones. The way her corners have softened to allow me to slip easily from one place to another, as if swimming. She trips my husband up every now and then, just for fun. She has that sort of sense of humor. 

Here I feel safe; I feel free. Expansiveness and coziness coexisting. One day I may have to leave. So I have to know, have to believe, that whoever Home is, I’ll be able to carry her with me.

Splendid Imperfections

By Rosslyn Chay

The clouds—
ever changing—shape-shifters
gaining bulk then losing weight, then drifting high
above the atmosphere into the ether.
Imperfect beings made to perfection.
Imperfect
to any minds with no space
for fluff. It’s bound
to bump into someone
who sees it as imperfect,
deems it as imperfect.
But imperfect
belongs not to it—
a title, a label, put on it by another
who’s clouded in the mind.
A puff without integrity
or a billow of full potential?
As it glides across the sky—my pocket
of sky framed by the window—it boasts
its full glory, baring its shadows,
taking up space, un-
reservedly, un-
hurriedly, un-
apologetically filling
the sky, blanketing it.
How splendid this perfect being dons its imperfections.

Go on, announce your presence:
Roar and rain.

The moment I knew

By Jan Martinez

The moment I knew the story of prune juice was in some ways tragic, came after my father died.  When I realized perhaps that I would never hear this story again, as I had every year for most of my adult life – every Thanksgiving.

Dinner finished, we would all clear our plates, banishing the carcass of the turkey, the dried remnants of green bean casserole, and the white dish, now empty, of sweet potato soufflé, scraped so clean that if put on the wrong side of the sink, it might not get washed at all.  Then we’d regather for pie – pumpkin and pecan – homemade, with Cool Whip straight from the tub.  We’d bring our decaf coffee, tea, port, or wine and sit again to listen to my father tell the story of prune juice.

It happened when my dad was at school in Texas, recently from Mexico.  Thirsty at the bus stop, he’d been given enough change to buy the only beverage available.  A 12-ounce can of prune juice.  He was still thirsty and by some miracle, enough change appeared for him to buy another can.  And another.  And another.  Yes, 48 ounces of prune juice, while waiting for a bus that would never come.

By now, halfway through our pie and coffee, everyone including my dad would be laughing and cringing, as one of us would ask, “what comes next?”  What does come next, on a three-mile walk back to school with 48 ounces of prune juice along for the journey?  What indeed.

My dad would describe the in-town hotel washroom, the abandoned derelict house, and even a dormitory bathroom that would never be the same.  

It’s a funny thing… If this had happened to me, I’d probably never touch the stuff again.  Yet as I look back on the many years of this story, abdominals cramped from laughing (not prune juice) I recall that as long as I can remember, there was always a giant bottle of prune juice in our fridge.

For reasons known only to them …

by Laura Hughes

For reasons known only to them, some people have endless energy. Not me. For reasons known only to them, some people think COVID’s not a thing. Not me. For reasons known only to them, some people think COVID is a thing, but are still willing to travel freely. Not me. And, frankly, I am pissed off with all of them.

I have two weeks off. Well, it was three – but one has already gone.

I’m not vaccinated – well – I half am – but not enough to count for anything, despite an ouchie arm.

And, none of my plans are penciling out.

Can’t get on a plane yet… at least – choose not to. Certainly can’t go home – not allowed. Not sure I feel safe road tripping to places where governors that I consider mildly insane, or just fucking irresponsible, or stupid – take your pick? – have removed mask mandates, or are about to. Not sure I feel safe visiting friends who work with other humans, even if masked. Can’t spend some ungodly amount on a rich person’s over priced airbnb, or at least I’m not willing to. Not excited by the pacific northwest. Not excited to drive 3 days. Wanting warmth. And stuck. Out of options.

But, most desperately, don’t want to stay here – stuck in the same damned rooms, the same damned walls, with the same damned books, the same damned everything as the last 13 months and 2 days. Not even with a weather forecast that might be sunny, that might hit – oooh – 70.

And all I hear is the timer ticking in my head. Make a damned decision Laura. Just do something. Anything. Because this time in 2 weeks you’ll be staring down the barrel of infinite days, weeks, back at this desk. Back at this screen. Just do something. Anything. Get outside. Go explore. Be free.

In the last week or so, all my patterns have come to the fore, in sharp focus. The abject terror of my freedom being constrained. My hatred of grey. My idealistic daydreams and my deep disappointment that the fantasies I construct in my head are not reality. The fear of boredom and mundanity. The narrowing feeling of having others place constraints. The envy of what others do, what others have, what others create. The desire to be adventurous. The desire to stay safe. The question of whether I’m overly cautious. The curiosity about whether I’ll ever have energy again, whether I’ll ever leave the house, whether I’ll ever feel comfortable. The fear that this is all I am now – my world stuck in small.

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