Separate Stories Project No. 5

New to the separate stories project? It goes a little sumpin sumpin like this:

My friend Julie and I wanted to draw more, and write more stories. So each week, we come up with a theme to draw to.  On Mondays, we swap drawings, and during the week, Julie comes up with a story based on my drawing, and I come up with a story based on hers.

It’s all about the buddy system, buddies. I tell ya.


 

This week’s theme: Something that flies

Julie’s drawing:

separate stories project

Nicole’s story about Julie’s drawing:

Looking up from his laptop, Peter reads to Bob:

“By tying thousands of balloons to his home, 60-year-old Gene sets out to fly above the wilds of New Zealand. Christopher, a neighborhood boy scout 50 years his junior, unintentionally becomes his hostage.”

“Hostage, Peter? Sounds a bit extreme, don’t you think? What about ‘becomes an accidental travel companion’ or something less terrorizing—we’re trying to make a comedy-adventure film, not some psychological thriller with a Liam Neeson cameo.”

“I’ll have you know that I was at the edge of my seat during Taken.”

“We all were.”

“Right. Well, here. Take two: By tying thousands of balloons to his home, 60-year old Gene…”

“Let’s make him older. And give him a new name, too, the last Gene I knew went through two tubs of pomade a month and smelled like PetCo.”

“By tying thousands of balloons to his home, 78-year-old Carl sets out to fly above the wilds of New Zealand—we need a reason why. Why would any old man do that?”

“The local senior retreats are all full for the summer. His urge to travel the world matches his desire to die in his home. An unusual fear of airports has hindered his travel for far too long and finally, he’s taking matters into his own hands. His daughter’s a kiwi and she’s getting married to the man of her dreams, a Swedish expat with hair to his shoulders and a PhD in Geology.”

“Or” Peter says slowly with both eyebrows raised, “the love of his life, a woman who’s been by his side since he was a boy, just died a calm, old-woman death. And now, Carl is going on the journey they promised each other they’d take.

“If that’s the case, it should be South America. I’m picturing Carl’s wife with a lovely, colorful collection of Peruvian and Bolivian trinkets, though New Mexico was the farthest south she’d ever been.”

“So… By tying thousands of balloons to his home, 78-year-old Carl fulfills a lifelong dream to see the wilds of South America. To his chagrin, an earnest boy scout accidentally tags along—the boy needs a name. An ironic one that, by and large, you wouldn’t associate with a kid.”

“Kenneth.”

“Absolutely not,” Peter says without so much as a glance in Bob’s direction.

“Calvin. Claude. Bruce. Terrance. Gordon”

“I like Gordon. I also like Dustin. What about Dustin?”

“Russell. It’s Russell. Russell the wilderness explorer! One hundred percent. Read it again.”

“By tying thousands of balloons to his home, 78-year-old Carl fulfills a lifelong dream to see the wilds of South America. To his chagrin, Russell, a Wilderness Explorer 70 years younger, becomes an earnest stowaway unexpectedly along for the ride.”

Staring at the screen over Peter’s right shoulder, Bob eases his arms into a gentle fold.

“Pixar is gonna eat this up.”


Nicole’s drawing:

Processed with VSCOcam with b1 preset

Julie’s story about Nicole’s drawing:

They named me Gold, the little one with the chubby fingers thought it was hysterical.

He acted as if it was the most original of all the names that anyone had ever given to a gold fish.  He liked to stand and poke at the glass that protected me from his jammy hands, leaving his fingerprints everywhere.

When he talks to me, I can see orange flaky remnants of his ironic choice of snack lingering in his mouth. He always talks while he chews. It’s enough to make me wish I had a stomach so I could return the favor.

The bigger woman, I can only assume this is his mother, said I looked bored so they plopped a plastic castle right in the middle of my tank a few weeks ago.

There are three towers, two on the right and one on the left. Each side connected by a dilapidated and rustic bridge that I can only assume is there for the humans benefit and not for mine. I have heard, on occasion, people say it gives the castle character. This always makes me wonder what kind of world they live in, where a plastic fish castle needs character.

I don’t mind the castle much anymore, I like to pretend that I am a bird when I swim under the bridge suspended in “mid air” next to the tower. When I look down, I see rolling waves of vibrant green grass. Diving down, I try to get as close to the grass as I can before pulling up at the last second skimming the tops of the blades. Then I rocket myself up towards the sky. When I am imagining, it is the clearest and bluest sky.

You dear reader, can’t even imagine how spectacular the sky looks, as fish can see colors that you cannot. How free it must feel to be a bird. How warm it must be to feel the heat of the sun.

But alas, when I look down, the grass is really blue rocks. The air is really musty brown water, and the sun is just a flickering light trying desperately not to be swallowed by the black ceiling of my limited world.


 

Leave a comment with what you think our next drawing theme should be!

Separate Story Project No. 3 and 4

Week 3 of the Separate Story Project brings to life “Something with potential”

Julie’s Drawing:

imagejpeg_0

Nicole’s story about Julie’s drawing:

My grandfather, a most-famous Hungarian magician, had two possessions on his person when he died: a locked leather-bound journal in which he wrote detailed descriptions of his every illusion (both practiced and performed), and a key—a skeleton design which weighed heavily on a faint gold chain around his neck.

He, in his old age, had become hermitic—fearful, and rather paranoid. I remember the last time we saw each other at Café Montemarte, it was an unusually warm night in February and his attention was fractured with nearby distractions. People walked too closely, spoke too loudly, brushed up against his shoulder too purposefully. His eyes darted eagerly, shooting from them blades of suspicion.

Only my mother knew of his address, and on the afternoon that he passed, she closed the brass door quickly behind her; the entry room was dark with the exception of one band of slanted light. Dust floated at an angle from window slat to amber rug. The air was thick and drowsy, even more so as she stepped towards the back of the apartment to where his bed had always been. Through thin windows she heard the sound of life continuing outside of death—the steady hum of cars and conversations sang with the tick of a second hand. She acted with haste to gently remove the key from his chest and journal from his grasp—she couldn’t bear that just anyone could uncover his secrets.

Within hours, news rumbled through the allies of Budapest, over the lakes of Slovenia, across the islands of Norway, down the streets of Stockholm and London and Montenegro and the island of Sardinia; people cried in the streets. His death threw the entire world into mourning, and as they wept, my mother and I—his only living descendants—opened the journal.

She flipped through the pages slowly at first, rubbing them stiffly between her thumb and forefingers to separate front from back. Her pace quickened, until, unexpectedly, she turned the journal so that the back cover was on top, and fanned through the pages, end-to-start. All but one page was blank.

His handwriting was spidery, thin and angular across the center of the sheet:

“It is true that those who do not believe in magic will never find it. My darling Kate, you must watch the whole world around you with glittering eyes–the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. The bottled ship, my finest accomplishment, is yours.”


Nicole’s drawing:

20140713_172908

Julie’s story about Nicole’s drawing:

Her head hit the pillow like a train on a track, heavy and fluid.

Her eyes ached and burned even when they were shut, but her mind didn’t seem to notice. It was her escape, this bed, the place where she could just be. She loved the idea of dreaming, the hope that she would wake up with a deep and epiphanic understanding of it all. Everything she wanted to be was kept in her dreams.

The disconnect between her eyes and her body was magnetic. Normally a sweet escape, her bed slowly started to feel like a prison taunting her pulling her in and out of the want for sleep. Eyes closed, and arms raised above head, she pulled her spine as long as she could. A refreshing cat-like stretch to wind down her rapturous mind.

Sleeping was hard. Wiping away the tear that fell for no reason other than necessity, she sighed. Every inch of her body felt heavy. At last, she said a silent prayer, turned off her light, and decided to try again.


Week 4

Drawing theme: “Sunday Brunch”

Julie’s Drawing:

 

IMG_1529

Nicole’s story about Julie’s drawing:

“We bought a truck and gutted it one summer. Slept out of it for an entire month, too. At night, your mother would cozy herself in one of my old flannels, she’d be completely swimming in it, but she loved the way it wrapped twice around her–said she felt ‘snug as a fox in a den.’ On the night of our first wedding anniversary, we drove the truck out to Todd County to camp by the lake. I remember going out about a half-mile from camp to gather wood for the fire—I couldn’t have been gone for more than an hour before I trudged back in with logs and stray branches up to my beard.

I had the workman habit, then, of running my forehead with the inside of my wrist, and I’ll never forget the way she came up and kissed me on the cheek after I had rubbed the sweat from my skin. Told me she had a surprise for dinner. Your mother, I tell you, was full of surprises. From behind her back she revealed a bundle of butcher paper tied in the center with thin twine…and you know what she said to me?”

I shook my head no.

“She said, ‘Bacon. Bacon and eggs and pancakes. And every year on our anniversary, we’ll have breakfast for dinner just like tonight.

She was so pleased with herself. She had my heart in her hand. Still does. I remember the way the oil crackled in the pan, and how her eyes dropped and her lower lip came out just like this, all childlike and weary when some of the shells accidentally mixed in with the eggs.”

“I miss her,” I said looking down at the empty space between my napkin and knife.

Walking over with two plates full of bacon and eggs and pancakes in his hand, he recited it again:

The moon turns its clockwork dream.
The biggest stars look at me with your eyes.
And as I love you, the pines in the wind
want to sing your name with their leaves of wire.

He switched on the light overhead, handed me my breakfast for dinner, and sat lightly to my right. His glass of orange juice looked frightfully out of place, but he picked it up and leaned its rim in my direction.

“To your mother. To strong love and silly tradition.”


 

Nicole’s drawing:

Processed with VSCOcam with c2 preset

Julie’s story about Nicole’s drawing:

She could move through the recipe as effortlessly as humming the tune to her favorite song. She loved Sundays, and Sundays loved her right back. Sunday was the day they had brunch. It started as a tradition back when they were dating, Bloody Mary breakfasts. Even now in the early morning, with three bedrooms and two beautiful children, they still managed to find time to clink their glasses and relax.
She needed a lemon. She opened the door and walked to the backyard, the grass was still wet with dew and the sun was breaking through the branches of the Oak tree in the corner with glorious beams of light. The air had a distinct smell of summer. She returned to the kitchen with the biggest lemon the tree could offer her, and set to work.
Her feet seemed to glide across the floor as she gathered the pepper, the horseradish, and the creole seasoning. She wasn’t quite tall enough to reach the spices in the cabinet so she had to use her tip toes.
“Fourteen years of ballet and it all comes down to this” she said to the dog.
She laughed to herself as she put the spices down on the counter next to the glasses, and continued to dance through the choreography. Her movements were graceful and precise, she never looked at the glasses she relied instead on muscle memory.
As she mixed, she closed her eyes and started humming “Here Comes the Sun” it seemed like an appropriate choice for her favorite day of the week. The soft clink of the cubed ice against the glass set the rhythm as she stirred. Somewhere around the second verse, she opened her eyes and saw him sitting at the table watching her. She smiled with her entire soul and his soul smiled right back. She brought the finished drinks over to the table and sat next to him.
“Happy Sunday” he said.
“Happy Sunday” she said, and they clinked their glasses and sipped their drinks, both enjoying the peace and quiet.

Word from my windshield

The first time I saw her do it, she was wearing blush colored cat-eye sunglasses that she found in the sale acre of Forever 21. “Four bucks!” she shared with her sister over the phone. The lenses on them had a bashful tint, and I could see that below them, her eyes skipped along points on the low hills to her left, then snaked between the dash and side mirrors in a lopsided infinity loop. She pulled down the sun visor. Flipped up the flap and pursed her lips. Given the opportunity, she would deny this behavior, saying instead that she had been inspecting the aftermath of a break out flare-up. Regardless, she looked kissable.

One stoplight past the airport, it started.

“There’s a minivan turning.” She said with reservation.

“Those guys, in orange, they’re closing down the left lane. Now, I’m turning my right blinker on. I’m drifting right, drifting right, drifting right. Here I am in the right lane without having checked my blind spot.

Tangled now in the wires of narration, she committed.

“A wide worker man with a goatee is stacking all the cones. One in the other. Then the other in another. Then three into four but four’s all he’ll go ‘cause five’s one too many cones for a wide worker man to…

I’m braking. My foot is on the brake.

Hello, lady in the silver Jetta, I see you got your car at Perry Ford. Was that a good experience? I bet you wrote a check for it. I bet your name is Georgia.”

And then I saw her breathe in deeply; her seatbelt shifted upward on her collarbone and music followed the exhale out of her lungs.


“Georgia. Georgia. The whole day through. Just an old sweet song keeps Georgia on my mind.”


Through two verses of nonsensical lyrics that she made up on the spot, I listened. It was throaty but tender. At one frame, she pounded the heel of her right palm against the steering wheel—not to keep time, but to alleviate the tension when there’s

“No peace. No peace I find…

…just an old, sweet song…

…keeps Georgia on my mind.”

I recognized the look in her eye when she rolled onto the gravel in front of her driveway. Under the rose lens it whispered, I don’t remember getting here. Her left hand crossed her body and reached down for the red release button. The belt slid slowly over her twin badges of femininity, and found its place coiled in the car door. A steep driveway separated her from home, and she called her Mom to swap stories about their days. While the phone rang, she peeled off her sunglasses from behind her ears and leaned her body to the right with an elongated spine so that her eyes met their reflection in the rearview mirror. She tilted her head back and widened them slightly with both brows raised and both lids flat and without crease.

“Hi baby.” The sound came over the Bluetooth Speakers.

She shot back into her bucket seat. “Hi momma. How was your day?”

For ten minutes they talked about the ducks that keep breaching her mom’s HOA contract to break in for long dips in the pool.

“A Mallard and a…what’s it called when it’s not a Mallard? Anyway, they keep showing up, the pair of them, and I’m not sure what to do about all the swimming and pooping they keep up to. Raul, he’s the new pool guy—you gave him the check last time you were home, remember?—he’s not much help. How was your day?”

While her mom spoke, she raised her left elbow chin-height to give a light scratch to the back of her neck.

“I watched this video today, one of my favorite authors gave a talk about Self Delusion in the creative process. It was that whole “fake it til you make it” kind of thing, but much more eloquent and really… applicable.”

“What… does that mean, self delusional…?” she asked. The same shake in her voice that was present two summers ago when she wondered out loud about what, exactly, a beer bong is.

“It was all about faking confidence and security in your art, until eventually you start to be confident and secure in it. He said that he gets really anxious about his books, and their deadlines, and whether or not the stories will come together by the end of it all—and instead of egging on self doubt, he asks himself ‘what would an extremely confident person do in this situation? What would that person say? Whatever the answer, that’s how I react.’”

“Sure, okay. That makes sense, I do that everyday.”

“Well la-di-da!”

I heard them smile through the speakers.

“So he’s got you feeling, all…loony, I take it?”

“The loony tooniest, momma. No, but, okay, so then he said that he also tried meditating. But his sessions were completely half-assed and frustrating, so he made up his own type of meditation by talking to himself. Out loud. In the middle of central park—to get out of his head and into the present moment.

“Nutjob. Go on.”

“…narrating everything around him, he said it was the best way to stay present, instead of letting his mind wander to the stacks of blank pages burning pathetic frown-faces into his desk.”

“Mmmhmm.”

“So in the car, today, I tried it. I just talked out loud to myself and narrated everything going on around me. And by the end of it I was singing, and suddenly I was home, and nowhere along the way was there a thought or worry in my skull. It was nice. It was wonderful, actually.”

The exchange went on like this for a short while longer, until finally, they said their talk-to-you-laters and she clicked the off-hook button on her steering wheel to end the call. From where I was looking, the space between her shoulders and ears seemed wider. Her neck was long and smooth below her jaw and her mouth curved instead of pursing towards me. I thought to myself, if this is what self-delusion looks like, it looks a hell of a lot like confidence.

Wave parade Nicole Varvitsiotes

Chapter Poetry Vol 1

Waveparade

 

I’m a shameless annotator; every book I read gets defaced. With Cold Mountain, though, I’m trying something new. Starting today, instead of closing my notes and markings between pages, I’ll revisit each chapter and collect every sentence I’ve underlined*, then shuffle them around to create something completely new. A story within a story. Or perhaps an accidental poem.

That is to say none of the sentences below were intended by Charles Frazier to be in this sequence.

*If a word or sentence strikes me, and I resort to reading it twice, it gets the line.

 


 

From the chapter titled “the ground beneath her hands”

Best paired with

Psylla — Glass Animals

 

All her life, her father had kept her back from the hardness of work.

They had spent entire rainy afternoons snug and dry as denned foxes, whispering secrets to each other.

She looked up with disappointment to the faint lacework of pale blue sky visible through the leaves.

Much of the past three damp months she spent sitting in the chair reading, a quilt wrapped around her to hold back the chill of the house even in July.

Her new life seemed only a foreview of herself as an old woman, awash in solitude and the feeling of diminishing capabilities.

What actual talents could she claim? All seemed to lead fuller lives than she did.

In comparison, the words this canted landscape spoke were less hushed, harsher.

The thick outer growth of leaves was just a husk enclosing a space like a tiny room.

The coves and ridges and peaks seemed closed and baffling, a good place to hide.

The night was dry and only a little cool.

The moon shed a fine blue light on the woods and fields.

As a tonic for her gloom,

She found herself bent backward over the mossy well lip, canted in a pose with little to recommend it in the way of dignity or comfort, back arched, hips forward, legs spraddled for balance.

She thought she might faint, but suddenly the spinning world caught and held still.

What she saw was a wheel of bright light, a fringe of foliage all around.

Climbing without pause, she found that the rhythm of her walking soon matched up with the tune of Wayfaring Stranger, still chanting itself faintly in her head.

Below her she could see the river and the road, and to her right—a fleck of white in the general green—the chapel.

Skin thin as parchment over the bones.

Stirred by fog

fog

In October, I stocked up on pumpkin butter from Trader Joe’s and have since spooned it into thumbprint cookies, spread it over toast, or savored it with a nibble of goat cheese. This morning, I scraped the last of it, and stirred it into my oatmeal. As I ate, I stared at the fog, tranced. In need of waking. Passages from the book I’m reading, Cold Mountain wove through the space in my skull. Here they are, pair them with Waiting Game by Banks

 

“He flapped again at the flies and looked out the window at the first smear of foggy dawn and waited for the world to begin shaping up outside.”

“Ribbons of fog moved low on the ground though the sky was clear overhead.”

“At first, all she liked about the reading spot was the comfortable chair and the good light, but over the months she came to appreciate that the window’s view offered some relief against the strain of such bleak stories, for when she looked up from the page, her eyes swept across the fields and rose on waves of foggy ridges to the blue bulk of Cold Mountain.”

“Morning broke to fog, but its brightness announced that it would burn off quickly.”

 

I’ve only just begun the book. 60 pages in, and four descriptions of fog cry out to me. This is why I love to read; It makes me take more notice.

May something fall into your day that stirs you.

 

Joshua Tree

Last month, when I reread Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley, I underlined at least one turn of phrase a page. His manner of churning description out of observation is one to be studied, and so I do. This weekend, I applied that knowledge.

Drew and I visited Joshua Tree National Park for the first time. Three days under an expansive sky where uninhibited light poured slantwise. Two nights, cold enough for the air to cut our nostrils with dry frost. They were far from being frightful; they were lovely beyond thought.

Entrance to the park was free this President’s Day weekend, and left us rich with memories, photographs and calloused toes and fingers from climbing 100 million year-old jumbo rocks. And nearly all the while, I read the desert like a page out of John’s book:

The Southwest is a great and mysterious wasteland, a sun-punished place.

At night in this waterless air the stars come down just out of reach of your fingers.

A vast and inventive organization of living matter survives by seeming to have lost.

One may look in vain for living creatures in the daytime, but when the sun goes and the night gives consent, a world of creatures awakens and takes up its intricate pattern.

The desert, being an unwanted place, might well be the last stand of life against unlife. For in the rich and moist and wanted areas of the world, life pyramids against itself and in its confusion has finally allied itself with the enemy non-life. And what the scorching, searing, freezing, poisoning weapons of non-life have failed to do may be accomplished to the end of its destruction and extinction by the tactics of survival gone sour.

The lone man and his sun-toughened wife who cling to the shade in an unfruitful and coveted place might, with their brothers in arms–the coyote, the jackrabbit, the horned toad, the rattlesnake, together with a host of armored insects–these trained and tested fragments of life might well be the last hope of life against non-life. The desert has mothered magic things before this.

———–

Joshua Tree National Park Joshua Tree National Park  Joshua Tree National Park  Joshua Tree National Park

image

image

image

Joshua Tree National Park

image

image

image

image

image

image

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park

image

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

Joshua Tree National Park  Joshua Tree National Park Joshua Tree National Park Joshua Tree National Park Joshua Tree National Park Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park

Momknapping: The Finale

For seven straight days, my mom and I shared the same 20 x 20 box with two beds. Whenever she awoke, I did too. Whenever she watched a Lifetime movie, so did I. Meals? together. Neighborhood drives? Side by side.

We know a lot about each other, she and I. Always have, but this trip took us to a new level of understanding.

Here’s what I knew to expect: She’s always presentable and always prepared.  She notices the colony of lint settling onto my peacoat approximately 3 days before I do. She checks for holes in her nylons before packing them on a trip, and immediately hangs up her coats, dresses, sweaters, scarfs and transient “wrinkleables” in the hotel closet. The folds of her purse are lined with protein bars and small stashes of almonds.

“Lord knows when you’ll find yourself hungry or in a bind.”

Here’s the unexpected: I felt so much like my dad.

I guess he’d take his socks off in the middle of the night and forget to find them the next day, swallowed in the sheets. I guess he’d talk to waiters and workers and people with the same spark and tenderness that she caught me with.

“You’re so much like your father,” she’d say.

But besides the quirks and traits and behavioral patterns that were passed onto him to be passed onto me, I felt so much like my dad because I felt so much love for my mom. My, my. What a mushy thing to say and extraordinary thing to feel.

Our time in Atlanta can then be lumped into two themes that are so strongly intertwined. Human behavior (my mother’s, my father’s, my own. The people, past and present, that make up the confederacy — that make up the state and the stories told to the tiny Georgia Peaches not yet ripe enough to hear the true sounds of the South) and History.

We started at the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library. Read the quotes to get an idea of the type of human behavior this President fought for.

20131204-165826.jpg

20131204-165751.jpg

20131204-165839.jpg

20131204-165848.jpg

20131204-165936.jpg

20131204-165947.jpg

We drove through the Virginia Highland neighborhoods to stop by a house that means so much to a few we love.

20131204-165958.jpg

20131204-170012.jpg

The Fox theatre welcomed us into the Cleopatra Ballroom, where we stood amidst hundreds of lit forty-somethings in sailor hats. They swayed and step-touched to the sounds of Yacht Rock Revue. The band looked like they had just stepped into technicolor, and their mustaches were unspeakably seventies.

20131127_220740

20131127_215557

The next day we went to Stone Mountain. Before we knew its racist roots, we looked upon it as visitors and were charmed by it. The Antebellum plantations. The fallen leaves. The wooden planks, everything frozen in time.

I cannot even express how heavy my heart is after seeing the tribute to Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson proudly etched into the stone that once held burning KKK crosses. The day evoked strong questions, emotions, sadness. But the visit was worthwhile. It was 20 degrees when we were there, but I cannot recall the cold, only the air hot, sticky with hatred.

20131127_15485420131127_15293520131127_15310020131127_153144

 20131127_15452720131127_15464920131127_15435620131127_142930  20131127_143252   20131127_15292920131127_140004 20131127_135944 20131127_140117

For the rest of the trip, I worked and worked and worked. Luckily, my main girl was always up for meeting me after a long day and trying new places to experience new eats. Together, we sampled some of Atlanta’s food jewels.

20131204-170102.jpg

20131204-170117.jpg

20131204-170129.jpg

20131204-170138.jpg

And when all the food and fun was said and done, we’d come back to the hotel and rest our heads in unforgivably comfortable beds. We marveled at the christmas decorations and the heated indoor pool.

20131204-170152.jpg

I took a dip to get my heart rate up. When it slowed, I floated on my back, placing my index fingers in my ears. I listened to the blood circulate and the pool vent chew the water. Weightless, I expressed my gratitude to Work for displacing me, and to my mother and father for placing me where ever it is I am today.

20131204-170203.jpg

With love, Us.

20131127_143612

20131204-170214.jpg