Sarah’s Tuscany

For the next four weeks, I will be publishing a suite of stories I wrote about a trip to Tuscany in 1997. It began as an experiment in writing in the second person, just to see if I could sustain it through one story…then two, then more. You decide if I was successful.

By Sarah White

Open your eyes.

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There it is, all that you glimpsed in shadow last night, now, do you see it lit with Tuscan sunshine?

The underside of the mansard roof. A rough wooden support diagonal from the chimney corner, carrying the rafters up to the central peak. Do you see the bottoms of red tiles, the neat rows of half-barrels. How can it seem at once so exotic and so homey?

I got you here, I made the arrangements that led to your waking in a rented villa with a husband beside you and his best friend across the hall.

I ordered this moment from a catalog.

But it is you who is coming alive for the first time today. And what you will do in the next few minutes may establish an entirely new history and future of you.

So, now, what will it be?

Jim is already up, just going downstairs to figure out coffee. You go down to the living room and, cold as that room is, begin doing yoga stretches. You have not done this in months, but it seems right at this moment, and soon you are warm and shedding the kinks of airplane seats and baggage-handling.

Scott comes yawning down the stairs, tussled and cute as a toddler.

“Do you always do stretches?” he asks.

“Try to.”

Honest enough for the new you.

The coffee is ready: bitter black espresso in the moka pot. Jim is taking his straight but Scott opts for con latte, quickly warming the milk.

How do you take your coffee, in this new life?

You choose latte too.

Yet it is not likely that you will sit in your new room exploring yourself. Tourism is the game at hand.

For the next few days, repeat this pattern . . .

All of you bound together, driving to some point of interest, “making tourism” (which is a way of saying you marched about old towns reading guidebooks and stopping for little meals) and coming home to the villa.

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You give names to your new selves—Scott becomes Guido, a play on words, for this name means both “guide” and “I drive.” Jim borrows the name Hercule from a shopkeeper, and makes a personality for himself as the artisan chef. Guido and Hercule honor you with the title Principessa, and you benevolently ruled your municipality of two. If Scott has contributed the helpful manservant, and Jim the kitchen staff, you have contributed their kindly autocrat employer.

You budget the days in your portfolio.

Today is Jim’s: Your threesome will set off for San Gimignano, a destination he has heard praised.

Tuesday is yours; the destination the Camaldoli, an enchanted forest tended by monks you have read about.

Wednesday belongs to Scott, and he leads you on a mission to make contact with a subculture. Following up an Internet connection, you spend a day in Florence studying not art, but the evolution of popular music.

Each day your making of tourism ends closer to home.

The calm hill country of Chianti, Land of the Black Rooster, is having its magical effect on you. It is as if the old farmhouse has a taproot deep into that earth, and each morning the travelers wake more nourished, closer to health.

On the last morning in Tuscany, the weather is clear. The three of you stroll away from the doorstep, discovering a network of trails that lead away across the vineyards. Botanizing, philosophizing, rambling in conversation and in navigation, you angle toward a village over the hills to the south.

You three follow the vines down one valley and up the next. Between you, the peace is unbroken, unspoken, securely held by its three corners. It is not just you who has come alive in this week, invented yourself fresh without sin or history. Three of you have enjoyed this miracle.

In morning light like thin honey you celebrate, stooping to touch the Mother. A snail shell rewards your hand and goes into your pocket.

Your work here is finished.

(c) 1997 Sarah White. Tune in next week for the next installment…

 

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Just the Way of It

By Doug Elwell

Photo by by Elizabeth Seward, found on http://aol.it/2cUBTlQ

Photo by Elizabeth Seward, found on http://aol.it/2cUBTlQ

She pushed away, “Let me fix you some breakfast before you go.”

She dropped a piece of paper and a pen in front of him, “Put your information down.” When he finished, he tore the paper in half and handed it to her saying the same.

“Do you have to leave?” she asked.

“Yeah.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know. Maybe I’m not sure.”

“So, who is?”

He doodled a series of circles and lines on his napkin, “Good question.”

“What is sure Harry?”

He looked away, “I’m sure you’ve got me stirred up in a way I haven’t been in a long time.”

“I haven’t felt this way in a long time either, maybe ever, I don’t know. Is that possible?”

“Don’t, Bonnie.”

She slumped in her chair, “You’re right. I’m being silly and foolish. I don’t know what I’m saying.”

“It’s not that.”

“Then what is it?”

“Every time I get here things go south on me.”

“Every time?”

“So far.”

“Does that mean it has to be that way always?”

“I’m running out of time. Besides it hurts and I can’t take the pain anymore.”

“I guess not. Of course you have to go, Harry Edwards, that’s just the way of it isn’t it?”

“Yeah.”

“You all packed?”

“Yeah.”

She walked him out to his bike, tested a couple of bungees. “May I ride with you for a while? To Magdalena?”

“That’s not a good idea. Where I’m going, you can’t go.”

“Why?”

He looked east. The sun was about to clear the horizon. The Rio Grande threaded south through Socorro. La Jornada del Muerte to the east—purple in the last moments before the sun broke. “This is your world—where you belong.”

“Okay Harry, I’ll stay here. I won’t follow you like a puppy. I’ll be big.”

“That’s good.” He started the engine then eased off the choke and let it idle smoothly. “None of that now.” He forced a smile and brushed her cheek with his thumb.

“See ya Harry.”

He gave her a last squeeze and idled down her lane to the highway west.

 

© 2016 Doug Elwell

About this piece of creative nonfiction, Doug tells me: “These days I’m mostly doing revisions of older pieces I haven’t looked a for a while. My latest kick is trying to follow Hemingway’s Ice Berg theory by leaving 7/8’s of the story implied (under the surface). I came close with  the attached piece called “Just the Way of It”. It is based on a true event where Harry is moving on after a brief but intense interlude with Bonnie. The event occurred years ago and the dialogue is re-created from memory, but the essence of it is true.” (You can search this blog for “Harry, Elwell” and you will find other essays chronicling the adventures of Doug’s alter ego, Harry.)

Doug writes short stories and memoir that feature characters, lore and culture of the rural Midwest. His work has occasionally appeared in his home town newspaper, The Oakland Independent, two editions of Ignite Your Passion: Kindle Your Inner Spark, True Stories Well Told, Every Writer’s Resource and Midwestern Gothic. He can be contacted via email at: djelwell@mchsi.com.

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The Kittycat Sutra

By Kelly Sauvage Angel

When the student is ready, the teacher will come.

~ Unattributed

 

A wise one, a young lama of sorts with no robes nor grand lineage to speak of, entered my life recently.

It was a rather nondescript Sunday in July. Nothing auspicious about it really, for at the time I was unaware of the gravity of our acquaintance, much less the impact his presence would have upon my life.

True to unarticulated protocol, our initial meeting proceeded informally albeit with a hint of the requisite fanfare. Amid a heightened sense of anticipation, I first glimpsed him through the grated metal door of the carrier my co-worker Theresa had set down just beyond the time clock upon which I had punched out. With hands trembling slightly, I released the latch on his confines and spoke his name: “Monty.”

After shaking off the grogginess of a mid-afternoon nap, a puff of fine gray fur stretched, achieving full extension, before tottering out upon uncertain limbs. He centered himself on all fours, paused for an eternal moment… and let out something between a squeak and a sneeze.

Having seen pictures of Theresa’s nine-week-old barn kitten, Sarah and Julie had accompanied me for the hand-off. Choruses of “Oooooh, look at him,” and “He’s so sweet,” echoed within the cinderblock vestibule.

With one hand around his midriff and another cradling his rear end, I lifted the kitten and brought him to rest upon my chest. He looked into my eyes and casually yet curiously sniffed my face. Not an ounce of tension resided within his tiny body. He knew nothing but complete and utter trust.

Monty

Monty

Arriving home, I again unlatched the door to the carrier. Monty tottered out once more, this time, to get a lay of the land. Moments later, Dublin, our 12-year-old, 25-pound orange tabby sauntered from my son’s room. He took one look at the little ragamuffin and promptly about-faced. He, offended and affronted, spent the rest of the afternoon under Hunter’s bed.

In an attempt to diffuse the tension, Hunter went to soothe Dublin while I corralled the little one.

“Come on, Monty. Let’s see mama’s room,” I called out with let’s-make-lemonade enthusiasm.

Though we didn’t necessarily abide by our agreement at the outset, our intention remained to cloister Monty in my bedroom while Dublin kept run of the apartment.

Dublin: cautious but curious

Dublin: cautious but curious

Within minutes, Monty discovered one of Dublin’s neglected toys in the corner nearest the windows. He chewed, kicked and pounced for a good half-hour. When discouraged from gnawing the cord to the phone charger, he turned his attention to an abandoned gum wrapper before seizing the opportunity to dance upon the keys of my laptop, only to nearly tip over my iced coffee.

Then, within the span of a breath, he was out.

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While he slept, I quietly made my way to the kitchen to throw together a batch of fresh blueberry muffins, peeking in on him, where he lay atop my comforter, between each step in the process.

***

From his arrival throughout the coming days, my routine of returning from my day job only to engage in various and sundry projects, literary, culinary and otherwise, took its place on the back burner. Once home, I’d set down my bag, change into comfortable clothes and spend a bit of time connecting with Dublin. Then, I’d head toward my room, lean back into the nest of pillows on my bed and snuggle with Monty.

Each time he’d doze, nestled into the crook of my neck, my mind would drift as my fingertips danced amid the softness of his fur. As heavenly as it felt to physically take it down a notch, my mind continued to gravitate toward its familiar ruminations – worries about finances, disappointment surrounding the recent end to a committed relationship, concerns regarding my mother’s stroke.

However, rather than lose myself in any number of my go-to endeavors intended to distract, I stayed with the sensation of Monty’s fur beneath my fingers and the ever-deepening cadence of his breath. Before long, I myself often surrendered to a brief though satisfying slumber.

***

Witnessing the way in which Monty was able to throw himself wholeheartedly into play and, in a split-second, stumble upon the deepest sleep imaginable, I began to envy his penchant for living within the moment and contemplated my own capacity for letting go.

Even when we began to integrate the two of them a few days later, Dublin’s reticence jaded Monty not in the slightest.

“Nah, he’s fine. The old man’s just got a few issues to work through. So, can I play with him now? Huh? Can I?” I could almost hear him say.

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Just like Dublin, my psyche boasts its own scars. Whereas he’s lost his ears and a good portion of his tail to frostbite, I’ve turned my back on my sensuality, free spirit and willingness to trust. He’s set in his ways, and I’m, well… set in my ways. The passage of time teaches us valuable lessons, the learning of which can, unfortunately, thwart our receptivity, leaving us reluctant to embrace new ways of being with the degree of openness necessary for truly meaningful connection.

***

 It’s still early on. The felines have yet to determined how the hierarchy might play out; however, I have caught Dublin several times now pawing with curiosity at Monty’s door.

As for me, sleep comes a bit more easily now. The mind chatter had quieted. Truth be told, it feels good to have someone to love… and to receive that love in return. Monty’s affection isn’t just a ploy to get me to fill the food dish, I’m confident about that, for, as my little guru has shown me**when we allow ourselves to be unsteady of foot and innocent of heart, those expressions of devotion just seem to flow naturally.

 

A graduate of Northwestern University with a degree in literature, Kelly Sauvage Angel is the author of Om Namah… (published under Kalyanii), a collection of poetry, two stage plays, dozens of short stories and hundreds of articles. After surrendering to the healing touch of her massage therapist and downing a couple anti-inflammatories after dance class, she most enjoys wiling away her free time manifesting her culinary inspirations and reveling amid the magnificence of nature. 

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The Long Shadow of Shame

“…shame relates to self, guilt to others.”
Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. in a 2013 issue of Psychology Today.

The Red Hot Chili Peppers song Under the Bridge has a refrain that goes, “I don’t ever want to feel / like I did that day,” which could technically refer to either guilt or shame—both give rise to feelings one wouldn’t want to repeat.

That song always brings to mind a day in about 1994 when I did something that made me feel a way I never want to feel again. I acted out of alignment with my own sense of right and wrong, and I got caught. Guilt plus shame.

A squib about my 1993 business move appeared in the Wisconsin State Journal.

A squib about my 1993 business move appeared in the Wisconsin State Journal.

I had recently moved my graphic design office to East Washington Avenue, into a rehabbed old factory building. Next door was a building occupied by a printing firm. The print shop had been there for decades—the motley crew of artistic types in my building, only a couple of years. Our building’s owner had not yet arranged a recycling solution for his tenants. I was generating office paper waste, and short of driving it home and placing it curbside with my residential recyclables, I was accumulating paper with nowhere to go.

One summer evening, I left the office with my overflowing carton of waste paper. I hope I meant to put it in the car—I don’t think my crime was premeditated. But I saw the printer’s recycling dumpster squatting just beyond the chain link fence from our parking lot, and no one in sight—I quickly tip-tapped an end-run around that fence in my Easy Spirit pumps and, pressing the carton against the dumpster with my chest, used one hand to lift the lid and the other to hoist the carton over the side.

“I saw what you did.”

That’s what you don’t want to hear when you, at 43 years of age, just did something a juvenile delinquent would do.

One of the pressmen had stepped out back to smoke a cigarette on the printer’s loading dock. I hadn’t paid enough attention to my surroundings before committing my crime.

I belonged to the same Rotary Club as his boss. I was a Rotarian, for crying out loud. That’s like being an Eagle Scout when it comes to moral behavior. And here I was against the dumpster with the lid still held high in my right hand.

“I’m sorry! I didn’t know what else to do—“

It sounded as lame to my ears as it must have to his. His reply was just a steely glare.

So I slunk away.

“Guilt and shame sometimes go hand in hand; the same action may give rise to feelings of both shame and guilt, where the former reflects how we feel about ourselves and the latter involves an awareness that our actions have injured someone else,” Dr. Burgo wrote.

I didn’t inflict great harm on the printer with my carton of #20 bond, but I did steal 2.5 cubic feet of dumpster space they paid for. Getting caught made me feel bad.

I would probably have forgotten this incident if it wasn’t for the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ song. Every time I hear that lyric “I don’t ever want to feel / like I did that day” I have to relive that moment.

I’ve long since gotten over the guilt of taking a little dumpster space from a printing firm, but I’m still standing in the long shadow of the shame.

 

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Why Our Stories Matter

By Sarah White

I pull a battered blue folder off my shelf. In marker, I have printed “FIRST MONDAY FIRST PERSON” on the cover.

I open that battered blue folder and look for my notes from our August meeting, the one where the small miracle occurred.

From time to time, because I create spaces for reminiscence writers to come together, I see small miracles: The one where someone makes peace with an old life experience. The one where a friendship forms, often at a stage in life when we lose more friends than we make. The one where, like this time, one person’s story helps heal another person’s grieving heart, just a little but just enough.

In the meeting room at the Goodman South Madison Library, thirteen of us gathered, greeted, filled our little plates with snacks, then settled in a semi-circle around the podium. Some were regulars, some just occasional drop-ins to First Monday First Person. One by one, writers who had added their name to the readers’ list stepped forward. We listened to their stories about a death, a birth, a tribute to a dad, a bad choice, a happy childhood—memories good and bad, memories worthy of reflection.

Some people leave early, some arrive late, dipping into and out of the stream of story in that meeting room. I was pleased to see Mary Joan slip in, since I know she lost her husband quite suddenly last spring, and sadness stalks her. Shortly afterward, Sariah stepped forward to read, a woman whose writing talent frequently soars into poetry. She said, “The title of my piece is, ‘How It Is Now, Living Alone.'”

Here is the piece Sariah read.

Not that night, but one like it...enthralled listeners.

Not that night, but one like it…enthralled listeners.

Another reader, another round of applause, and then the librarians flashed the lights, signaling time to close.

For me, a big part of the motivation to host workshops and events like First Monday First Person is to create a place where we can help each other figure out how to live, from the writing we share and the talking we do. These moments are what I’m working toward, with every phone call and email about the logistics and the honoraria and the registrations and all that nitty-gritty stuff that goes into being a writing instructor at large.

As I gathered up the remnants from the snack table that evening, I noticed that Mary Joan had approached Sariah—the two were talking near the door. As I headed out into the summer twilight, I saw them in the parking lot still talking, car keys in their hands.

I pulled away with a heart happy for the small miracle of one person being able to offer comfort to another.

    –  –  –

There’s still time to claim a seat in Guided Autobiography
at Capitol Lakes, starting next Tuesday. Find the nitty-gritty here.

 

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How it is Now, Living Alone

By Sariah Daine

Yes, there is a freedom that comes with living alone. I can come and go as I please, eat when and what I desire, sleep when I want, whether the dishes are done or not, use the bathroom whenever I feel the urge, regulate the temperature and adjust the blinds to shut out or welcome in the light of the sun as my mood flows.

No one asks me to turn off public radio to play violent video games on the TV. The mail is always addressed to me, whether by name or by virtue of being ‘current occupant’. I choose where I live, what artwork to place where and when to open my door to other people, invite them in and share my ‘Sariah’ feathered nest.

And then they’re gone.

If it’s late at night when my guests leave, I might not swish the wine from the bottom of the glasses, but leave them for tomorrow.

When I’ve brushed my teeth, washed my face, and taken my medications (to encourage my body to forget it’s headed quickly to 70), I look ay my big, comfy, queen size bed and begin ‘the arrangement.’ The taupe colored spread and deep red shammed pillows are removed, the fleece sheet pulled back; then the seven pillows and 2 towels are ‘arranged’ ……… all for the sake of my dislocated shoulder blade and back, with its many bulging discs!

I sleep ‘snowflake style’, per my physical therapist’s suggestion. This sleeping ‘snowflake’ takes up my entire bed! I am a spread-eagle, arch-backed, supported-limbed and -necked ‘snowflake’ as I melt into sleep.

I sort of chuckle as I write this, understanding more, with every added pillow, why loving couples sometimes opt for separate beds. Good Grief!!!

So, yes, I live alone and sleep alone and can do what I want, when and how I want.

Source: https://caroltoddsnowflakes.files.wordpress.com/2013/04/flickr-5360064817-hd.jpg

 

There is no one to care one way or another.
And…
there is no one to care… one way or another………

No one to ask how my day went or complain about theirs; no one to suggest we try a new recipe or cafe; no one’s hand to hold when one or the other of us is sad or scared. No one to care if the open blinds let in too much sun, that might fade the leather and wool.

When I was 33, sharing a home with my husband, my daughter, his son and a big floppy dog, I looked out the living room window, anticipating my husband’s return from work. My parents had arrived a bit before, going to share an evening meal. I turned to my mom and said, “I get excited, like butterflies inside, when Dan comes home.” Mom said, “I get butterflies too, when I see your dad… every time… for over 30 years!!!”

That night, I looked around the table as we ate our meal, got teary-eyed, as my heart filled….. full of wonder, at this group of ‘each-one-different’ people; so grateful for every mood and desire they brought to this shared table.

I miss it… having to always be conscious of other’s needs and pleasures… to share mine….. to feel the flutter of butterfly wings.

Now, I am some sort of chrysalis ……hanging… …waiting… …waiting to break free ….free of all this ‘freedom’ I feel.

Not much fun at all…..

(c) 2016 Sariah Daine

Sariah read this story at the First Monday, First Person salon in August. Check back next week for the story of this story’s impact!

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My “Aha!” Moment

By Melodee Currier

There are a variety of reasons people go to high school reunions.  Some want to catch up with old friends they haven’t seen in years, some want to see and be seen, and some are looking for closure with a former friend or love.  I wanted closure.

This story begins forty-five years ago in Pompano Beach, Florida when I left my high school fiancé to attend secretarial school in New York City.  Since he was a year younger than me, he still had his senior year of high school to complete.  Our plan was that he would attend Penn State after he graduated from high school, I would join him, get a job as a secretary at Penn State and we would get married – and live happily ever after.

mels high school pic

They say long distance romances are usually destined for failure and ours was no exception.   Soon after arriving in the Big Apple, I started dating and I’m sure he wasn’t just watching TV waiting for me his senior year of high school.  And so our relationship drifted in different directions.

After he graduated from high school, he went to Penn State as planned, but we never saw each other again.  I called him once while he was there and talked about coming to visit him, but within days of that call, I met my first husband and never spoke to him again.

When I heard that our high school classes were having a combined 45th reunion, and he RSVP’d that he and his wife would be there, my husband and I decided to go too.  I was apprehensive about seeing him after so many years, after all, I wasn’t 17 anymore — but I had so many questions and wanted to hear all about his life.

Soon after arriving at the reunion, I caught a glimpse of him and was surprised to see he looked very much like he did in high school.  As we passed each other on the walkway I called his name.  He stopped, looked at me and said, “Melodee Leven….wasn’t it???”  I was stunned and offended.  Is this the same guy that didn’t want any other guys to sign my yearbook and cried like a baby the night before I left for New York City?  His reaction was so unexpected, it caught me off guard.  It didn’t seem possible he could forget me — his former fiancé.  Hadn’t he told his wife about me?  So many thoughts went through my mind.

Although he and his wife spent a lot of time with my husband and me during the reunion weekend, most of the time we didn’t talk – and what little conversation we did have was superficial.  The funny thing is, I recall that is the way he was in high school too, but it didn’t bother me then.   When you’re a teenager and all you want is a guy who wears madras and Bass Weejuns and is a great kisser, it should be no surprise that they’re not talkative too.

I left the reunion disappointed.  There were so many words left unsaid.  And there was no going back.

Several months after the reunion I had an “Aha!” moment while telling a friend this story.  Hearing myself complain, I suddenly realized that I alone had the power to create the closure I wanted by letting go of my expectations.  Just seeing him again at the reunion after all those years was enough.  I didn’t need to know the details of his life which may have been interesting — or not.  It’s empowering and freeing to realize you can always create your own ending by adjusting your expectations.

 

© 2016 Melodee Currier

Mel Currier left corporate America in 2008 where she was an intellectual
property paralegal.  Since then she has devoted her time to writing and has
had numerous articles published on a wide variety of topics.   Her articles
can be read on her website www.melodeecurrier.com. Mel is an occasional contributor to True Stories Well Told.

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