Saturday, May 31, 2008

In hopes of sunshine showers

When the butter hit the hot pan the smell of clover and grass and something indefinable sprang up from the pan and woke my senses. I use unsalted organic butter and not margarine and the smell is heaven. Bacon crisped in the skillet on one burner while I poured beaten eggs into the other skillet sizzling with fresh butter. The room smelled of hickory and maple and clover and grass and so much more I was overwhelmed, a sense offense of the loveliest kind.

I must remember to get sea salt or find wherever I tucked the salt grinder because the eggs would have been nicer with a touch of salt and pepper and probably some nions, garlic, peppers, celery, and a bit of cheese would not have been out of place. My taste buds are on alert since I have to go to the grocery story this morning and stock up. The cupboard is bare and the refrigerator beginning to look quite bleak. I've been focused on work and unpacking and laundry and not doing much cooking until this morning reminded me of what I've missed. The farmer's market opens in a little while and I intend to cruise the stalls and pick up the first fruits of the season, and a few vegetables, too, while my senses are still alive and hungry for more.

And there are more books to read and review, a whole box full of them, one of which I finished the other night, a frothy Xian romance in Amish country. The tale has high flown ideals that don't quite make it where the ink hits the page with its clich├ęd romantic stereotypes and villain. The author needs to get out and about more and read more about the subjects she uses for her book. It's all right in its way and has a few decent moments but the story gets lost in garbled language and it seems the author isn't quite sure whether she is writing a literary or a genre novel.

On that note, I have a couple of stories of my own to finish this weekend that I've piddled about with for far too long, long enough that the characters are disturbing my sleep when I want to travel elsewhere during the dark hours while my body energizes for another day of work. It's annoying, but I shouldn't have put them off so long. Sometimes my job sucks the last bit of juice from my fingers and my brain and leaves me nearly phobic when in proximity to the keyboard. But I did relax a bit last night and watched Stardust a second time. I had no idea Neil Gaiman had such range and such a light touch with fantasy. I've always thought of him as primarily a dark urban fantasy writer whose work borders on horror and encompasses much broader concepts. Time to check out more of his work -- if I can find a little time.

The movie is a delightful mix of allegory and fantasy and the cast is wonderful. Clare Danes does a creditable and believable British accent but Michelle Pfeiffer edges a bit into American, although on the whole she is on the mark. There are the usual elements of witches and princesses and princes and pirates and enchanted supernumeraries but each is remarkably well fitted to the story as a whole and doesn't over shadow the main characters. They are more of a generous pinch of spice and herbs at just the right moment. The whole is imaginative and momentarily heavy on the saccharine without being over powering, such as during Yvaine's discourse on love. The whoopsie Captain Shakespeare is both frightening and endearing with his mincing, lisping playacting in front of his mirror during a battle on deck in his pink dress while fluttering a pink ostrich feather fan with muscular and tattooed hands, proving once again that DeNiro is versatile and has an excellent sense of comic timing. Even as a time ravaged witch whose beauty crumbles the more magic she uses, Pfeiffer is enchanting and Danes is ethereal and irritating and marvelous as the fallen star. Danes provides the perfect foil for Charlie Cox's Tristan who grows from wide-eyed youth to determined hero during the course of the adventure.

So, as the cool late spring air drifts through the house and clears out the fug of weekday working frustration, I am going to luxuriate in a warm shower, wash my hair with lavender and rosemary, begin a load of laundry after I dress and venture out into the sunshine with bright hopes for a sprinkle of rain to wash away the cobwebs and provide a cooling draught for my marketing trip.

That is all. Disperse.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Unexpected moments

Is there any scent to rival the green growing world warmed by sunshine and carried on cool breezes? I don't think so. I opened all the windows and took a deep breath and everything started tingling from my toes all the way up my spine to the roots of my hair. It's a glorious day with an arching Colorado blue sky and new leaves dancing in the breeze, casting seeds pods and pollen over everything like a dusty golden cover. The temperature is perfect and the breeze smells of life and excitement. Passing conversations fling themselves onto the winds and carry through the window full of laughter and emotion. Sunshine strained through the leaves cast glimmers of light and shadow onto my shoulders and the breezes lift my wet hair and send cooling kissing across my shoulders. And it's just another day, another glorious and beautiful day. What a gift.

Liar's diary

When I began journaling again it was to have somewhere to vent and talk things out and leave some mark of where I'd been. Years ago, a friend said she kept a journal, too, but not to record the truth. She wrote down things the way she wanted them to be seen so that people would think a certain way about her and so she could exaggerate her husband's abuses. She hoped someone would read what she wrote and believe it all. Since reading and reviewing, Liar's Diary I realize there are many people who use journals to create an image, something that never occurred to me.

In many ways, some journals, and blogs in this technologically marvelous world, are like first dates. A person dresses up, wears makeup and puts their best self forward in hopes of being seen as special and gifted and desirable. Keeping a journal/blog that exaggerates the good -- or the bad -- points of life and recreates history is nothing new and is very much like a liar's diary full of half truths and fantasy. Some of the blogs and journals I've read have been so fantastic they should be published; they exceed what even the best writers have crafted. Conversations that never occur, relationships woven out of thin air, friendships and rendezvous with lovers, mates and partners that never occur, buying a flower and taking a picture and saying it's from a loved one or a child when there is conflict in the home and the child barely speaks, cards, letters, and lives imagined on the virtual page, all designed to create an image.

The best lies contain just enough truth to be believable and there are people blogging who are adept at making a little truth go a long way while the masters sell wholesale lies readers swallow whole. It's like a quote that keeps coming up: Fiction writers are paid to lie. It does pay to lie. People see you the way you want to be seen and the author of the lies begins to believe what he writes, like a self fulfilling prophecy. In some places it's called delusion and in others it's called creative writing. But what happens if the imagined life taking form on the page never takes shape in the real world? I guess it's time for medication, a quiet environment and maybe a wrap-around jacket and a private room with padded walls and floor.

At heart, I'm a journalist of the old school, a sort of literary Sgt. Friday: "Just the facts, ma'am." Maybe that's why I have to wrestle fiction to the page. It's not black and white; there are always shades and gradations of color. For me, writing life's incidents is about marking the moment with a cairn of truth, even when the truth is difficult to read or remember.

As I unpacked the boxes of journals and put them on the shelves in my office, I thumbed through a few. Moments I had forgotten, places I'd been and things that seemed so important to me at the time came back in vividly colored emotions. It brought to mind talking to my mother after not having seen her for several years when she told me she didn't know I was so unhappy and in so much pain back then. She doesn't remember that though I lived in the same town just a few miles from her she didn't see me or visit. She was so wrapped up in her own life she didn't have time to look outside herself or beyond the confines of her world to see me. Visiting only at family gatherings once or twice a year, it's difficult to catch more than a glimpse of anything in the chaotic whirl of food and activity crammed into a few hours. Of course she didn't see how I felt. How could she? A few moments out of time in a house full of people is not an atmosphere conducive to opening up and having a heart to heart talk or baring one's soul, but there's always the journal.

Does anyone really want to tell people that they haven't had sex with their partner for weeks or that when they do have sex the passion and excitement have given way to perfunctory and mechanical motions? It's better to make people believe the thrill is still there and love is always in the air. It wouldn't do to write that most conversations end in shouting matches, that in a week's time a handful of words are exchanged or that every day is a power struggle. Can't have people finding out that even though you claim to be perfectly happy and content you're still chasing after an ex-lover because you're afraid to let go. Throw in the occasional bout of depression, a rant here and there and no one will know the depression is constant and that rage is the only emotion in your repertoire.

Everyone gets tired. No one escapes boredom or discontent for long without the patience of a saint or anti-depressants and mood enhancing drugs, or at least that's the story from the fella on your shoulder. You tell yourself that everyone gilds the lily until the lily can no longer support its golden head on its slender stalk. Even the networks and news services do it. Then again...

There's nothing wrong with a small and quiet life or one that is filled with unexceptional work and old friends who do nothing more spectacular than call occasionally to chat or share their views on books and movies and the niggling moments of life. There's something comforting in companionable silence and a social calendar filled with lots of space. Contentment takes so little effort and time and is as unremarkable as a past life herding goats or fixing meals and raising a family. Ant hills are not filled with queens.

In my old journals are simple moments and jazz riffs of philosophy and religion and the occasional small insight in the changing kaleidoscope of life. It's not about an airbrushed or computer generated image that smooths out wrinkles, plumps up sunken cheeks and sagging breasts or punctures cellulitic deposits and compresses fat. It's about life: gritty, heartbreaking, wondrous and mundane life, a collection of high and low and unremarkable moments that show who, where, what, why and when. It never occurred to me it was anything else.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Physics and dreams

I had my head stuck in books on Chicago politics and stem cell debates and only came up for air to sleep and to venture our during territory days. I enjoyed the fireworks but I must remember to get out before the farmer's market closes up. I forgot it opened last weekend. I'm ready for them next weekend with brand new canvas bags that should last at least as long as the old ones lasted, and that's a long time, nearly 20 years.

Sometimes I can't believe how fast time warps by, not just in terms of days but years. It's almost like dreams where events covering days, or even weeks, happen in an hour or two, about the length of time it takes for my bladder to fill and the physical urge to make its way into my dreams, using in terms of finding toilets, sitting on them and having nothing happen while I feel like a dam about to burst. I get up and go to the bathroom, which is usually crowded and without stalls, in the middle of momentous events, like curing cancer or telling someone off in a particularly inventive manner. It's also a bit of a problem when I have to stop kissing someone, or doing other salacious and X-rated things to them, to go sit in that public and increasingly crowded bathroom. There's nothing more troubling than being in the midst of solving a gruesome murder and being whisked onto the seat of the oh so public toilet again and again. At about that time, the message gets through to my brain that it's time to put away the mental toys and go to the bathroom before an embarrassing moment spreads warm and wet beneath me, through the 800-thread count cocoa-colored sheets and to soak into the pillow top of my fairly new and very well maintained mattress, guaranteed to haunt me on breathless August nights when I toss and turn in a heated flush. Definitely not fun.

As I write about this now, I wonder if the land of fairy isn't the land of dreams. The time difference is similar, but in reverse. A few minutes in fairyland is the same as months or even years in earth time. It's like dreams and fairyland are opposites, opposing poles that could be equally charged and thus repel like magnets set end to end. That would put the waking world in the middle, pushed and pulled by the forces of dreams and the power of faery.

I've been working on a faery story with physics as the basis of fairyland set at the event horizon of a black hole where the time dilation effect is a mathematical certainty, or at least so physicists theorize, but a dwindling black hole ravaged by time and its own weight so that it's gravitational effect would be diminished and growing weaker, much like the belief in faeries and the like. If faeries live near black holes then what would be the opposite of a black hole where the time dilation is also opposite? If I can figure that out, I may be able to come up with a story that encompasses the physics of faeries and dreams and where humans are affected by both. Too bad I have to work because this requires some research and I don't have the time this morning. I have lots to do and I don't want to be up until midnight or past again this week. I need my sleep and I've been sleeping so good lately with the window in the bedroom open wrapped in a soft and comfy sheet while the plastic on the garage roof next door crackles and snaps in the wind. Now, if I could only figure out what that pulsing electronic beep is, I could go to sleep sooner and wander along dream paths that will carry me to the answer to my literary questions.

That is all. Disperse.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Unreliable truth

Memory is like a worry stone or a coin in the pocket you keep rubbing and rubbing, imprinting your desire and vision onto its surface. Maureen Murdock and several other writers whose books I've read over the past year point to the same thing, that memory is subjective and colored by emotion and the stories we tell.

Case in point is the story of George Washington chopping down a cherry tree and, when asked, said, "I cannot tell a lie. I chopped down the cherry tree." It never happened. The story, which has become legend, was fabricated by the minister who wrote a biography of Washington and, when turned down by a publisher, spiced up the book to include that legendary tale, among others, to illustrate the point that Washington was an honorable and truthful man who should serve as a model of behavior. The same thing has been done to demonize, as well as to honor, most notably in the stories we tell about our acquaintances and ourselves. It's the old game of Chinese telephone. Tell a story at one point in a circle of people and pass it along. Does it remain the same?

In relationships, more fights have started over differing memories than anything else and at least one person in the relationship is determined to paint their partner black to gain control or to keep a metaphorical sword of Damocles hanging above their partner to keep him in line and, more often than not, to stoke the fires of jealousy, anger, rage and discord whenever possible. It wouldn't do for the guilty party to become too comfortable or to think the fight is over because it's not. In the eyes and mind of the controlling partner, the fight is never over, and the story changes over time, sometimes subtly and other times more obviously, adding misdeed upon misdeed until the original fault mutates into a moment of horror or evil so black as to taint everything from that point on when it should have been forgotten and left in the past.

I watched my mother dig up ancient dirt on my father, reminding him she was a saint and he a sinner because he made a mistake decades before. It's the same story for many people who have been guilty of some fault or flaw or misstep and have seen the light and become saints -- at least in their own eyes. None are more zealous in uncovering and digging up dirt than a sinner who has seen the light and moved from their wicked ways to the moral high ground, their detractors gaining a new coat of blackest evil along the way that makes the former sinner shinier and more saintly by comparison. Those acquaintances that come into the newly sainted person's circle of influence long after their checkered past has been weighed down by their recent conversion to virtue and never know the real story, hear only the unreliable truth of self-aggrandizing memory. In schools, it's called history.

During a discussion of past misdeeds between newly formed and slightly older acquaintances, one of the former acquaintances said she didn't believe something because it was the same every time she heard it. One of the newly formed acquaintances said, "Isn't that the definition of truth?" "No," she said, "it sounds like it's rehearsed."

Have we become so used to hearing the constantly edited unreliable truth that when the truth is told it is unrecognizable? Is no one willing to dig beneath the layers of exaggeration and confabulation to get to the heart of the story or is everyone so lazy and gullible they will accept anything at face value? Considering how the media keeps rewriting history and constructing carefully shaded versions of events to advance a private political agenda, it looks like truth is quickly going the way of the dinosaur. Truth has become a malleable instrument to spread hate and demonize former friends and acquaintances to build up the texture and imperviousness of the mask many people choose to wear.

Like Judge Roy Bean's soiled doves who, once they became respectable, wanted every new and single female out of town who didn't measure up to their jaundiced and crooked views of respectability. The former soiled doves were determined to forget their pasts while finding new and more creative ways to explain away what once they embraced with conviction and delight, smearing more layers of dirt and filth over the bosom companions they once claimed they would stand by through thick and thin.

Luckily, time is on the side of truth. No matter how many layers of filth must be scraped off, the truth has a way of coming out, usually at the most inopportune moments. It's no wonder people are so angry and full of rage. Somewhere inside, the fear that the truth will come back to bite them in the tender bits gnaws at them. No matter how a story changes, as long as one person knows the real story without the embellishments and exaggerations and outright lies, the unreliable truth will be an edifice built on shifting sands with the tide is coming in.