Wednesday, August 26, 2020

August #4: About those days of poetry . . .

Mason Cooley said, " Reading gives us someplace to go when we have to stay where we are."

Allen had just finished reading A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (2016). He handed me the book and said, "You must read this."

How can I not fall in love with a story that begins with a poem, followed immediately by a short transcript of the trial of Count Rostov in 1922 that ends with a threat? The Count must remain ‘quarantined’ in the Metropol Hotel or be shot.

I remember very little of Russian literature now, though I read the greats, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Turgenev, among others, many years ago. But, I digress. For by page 40 of A Gentleman in Moscow, I am fully immersed in this story of a Count who wrote a very long poem, “Where Is It Now?” in 1913. His poem inspired Russian revolutionaries. But as a former aristocrat, the Count is now reduced to living in a single room at the very top of this grand old hotel, and the reader is left uncertain about what will happen next. 

A visitor asks if the Count will continue to write. The Count replies, “I am sorry to say, Konstantine, that my days of poetry are behind me.” 

Konstantine stops at the door to reply. “If your days of poetry are behind you, Count Rostov, then it is we who are sorry.”

Ah, perfect, really perfect. These kinds of poignant moments fill the Count's story. For who can say what we leave behind us in our current time of chaos? I am drawn right into reading this lovely book. Check it out of your local library or read a snippet on Amazon. And that's what's on my current stack of books to-be-read.

Now to the poetry. Writing poetry seems at the whim of some internal muse I do not know well but appreciate every time an idea turns into poetry. Here's one that came along in August.

How do we remember our friends?

I wake up, dreaming of you, your study,
an imaginary garden of words,
the walls lined with poetry you chose,
an invitation to reflection,
the letters carefully drawn and
rounded with pale, blue ink,
three poems filled up one wall,
and there, by the window,
one I had sent you.
Impossible to be in that room
without falling into memory,
all those days of reading and writing,
alone and not alone.
Even now I can close my eyes
and see the letters dancing.

Image by Anja on Pixabay

Thank you for reading . . . I hope you are well in these difficult days.


Thursday, August 20, 2020

August #3: In Search of Answers

 Before the pandemic, we visited the Tucson Rock & Mineral Show, a sprawling exhibit with miles of rocks and dinosaurs and curiosities. There, tucked away in an obscure shop, we came across these amazing three puppets. The vendor picked them up from a friend of a friend, with no provenance. He's trying now to discover what culture or what artist created these puppets. And I'm curious enough, some six months later, to wonder.

Oh, these are storytellers, with the elder pointing the way. Their gnarled fingers and bound feet suggest long journeys ahead. Their beaded walking sticks and intricate costumes hint at a sophisticated culture, and their bodies wrapped tightly in furs may protect them against cold -- or discovery.

Every culture I'm thinking of . . . Pacific Northwest Native? African? Australian? But the symbols don't match, or the furs don't quite fit the climate. Even Google search by image doesn't help.

But aren't these beautiful sculptures? More than puppets. So, perhaps I'm left with the vision of an unknown artist. What do you think? Any suggestions?

In reality, these are the kinds of mysteries I daydream about. There might be a story here. Perhaps a distraction from these days of pandemic which wear on into the fall, just about the time these creatures may be heading south. 

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

August #BlogBattle: "Everest: One Step at a Time"

Image by mdhondt at Pixabay

 Allen paid an extra $2 for a private room when he checked into the WanderLust Hostel on his first night in Kathmandu. All he wanted was to sleep for twenty-four hours straight. Instead, he wandered downstairs to the open air patio for a snack. A few young men sat on cushioned benches, talking about how to best hike to Mount Everest. Allen took his plate of momos, delicate thumb-sized dumplings drizzled with a tangy sauce, and nodded hello to the group.

Most of the hikers were young. One man, about Allen’s age, leaned back against the wall, listening to the day hikers and adding bits of what he knew with a British accent. He might make a good hiking partner, Allen thought.

The next morning, Allen wasn’t surprised to see John at an early breakfast at 6:30 am, balancing a cup of tea with a rolled crepe filled with goat cheese and greens. 

     “Want to travel together today?” asked Allen. “Even if I’m American?”

     “I forgive you.” John nodded. “After I finish my tea, I’m ready.” He pointed to his pack by the door.

     Allen nodded – his fifty-pound pack also by the door. 

     Just outside the hostel, they caught a local bus, crowded with families with crying babies and vendors carrying racks of weaving. Live chickens, tethered together with string, squawked. Allen and John sat on their packs in the aisle for the nine-hour ride to Lukla that marked the beginning of the trail to the Everest Base Camp.

     “You travel much?” asked John.

     “My goal is to travel the world. So far, so good.” Allen didn’t talk about what pushed him away from the United States, the sense of claustrophobia he had since Viet Nam.

     “How many hours do you hike?” asked John.

     “The usual. Five, maybe six a day. That okay?”

     “Righto,” said John.

     They hopped off the bus at Lukla.

     “Time to stretch our legs. We got a short, five hour walk if we move out,” said John. 

     “Yeah. With fifty pounds on my back, I’m sure we can make it before dark – if we run.”

     As the sun edged down, Allen nodded to John. “Hey, pal. Looks like we didn’t have to run, and we get to sleep at a hostel.”

     “At this altitude, and this temperature, I didn’t think we’d be sweating so much,” said John.

     “Better wipe it off with a towel. I bet we don’t get a shower up here,” said Allen.

     At Namche, they took several days off to acclimate. Grateful for the respite from hiking, they simply napped, ate, and chatted with the locals. 

     Three days later, they strapped on their packs, anticipating each day’s climb to a higher elevation, with a brief break when the trail took them down through a valley. 

     “I don’t actually want to climb Mt. Everest,” said Allen.

     “Me either. Not at over 8,000 meters,” said John.

     “That’s 29,000 feet. I don’t think I can do that, but I want to see the mountains.” 

     John took a deep breath. “And I wouldn’t mind a cuppa.”

     They hiked past a Sherpa guide organizing a small group of tourists. Two Sherpas used a band to wrap two and three backpacks together, then loaded the packs on their backs, twisting the band around their foreheads. A fourth Sherpa loaded the remaining packs onto three gaily decorated yaks. 

     “If we hear bells when we’re on the trail, look out for yaks . . .” began Allen.

     “I know. Jump off the trail away from the downslope.” They began to laugh. Both had heard stories about hikers being brushed off the trail into the ravine below.

     “I like the sound of the bells,” said Allen. “Mostly. Especially if they’re on stupas.” Allen pointed out a small stupa beside the trail, surrounded by painted stones. “That’s a mani stone. The letters and the colors form an important mantra to Buddhists all over the world. If I remember correctly, it reads Om Mani Padme Hum.”

     “Well, what does it mean?” asked John.

     “Its meaning depends on where you are. Essentially, the saying reminds us to move from like where we are, that is not meditating, to focus on purity and how to wake up our souls. In a way, we’re then constantly on a journey to enlightenment.”

     “Sounds difficult to achieve.”

     “Yeah, but like this hike we’re on, one step leads us closer. Om Mani Padme Hum,” Allen intoned in a low voice. “Each step. Om Mani Padme Hum.”

     John struggled between laughing and trying to breathe. “Okay, Om. I’ll just say Om.”

     As they staggered closer to Base Camp, they come across a small tea house. 

     “I want some real tea,” said John. “Not those dried out bags of Tetley I’ve been carrying for months.”

     “This may be your last chance,” said Allen. 

     They stared at the little hut. “You’re sure this is a tea house?” asked John.

     “I don’t know, but I’m ready for a little coffee.”
     “Come in, come in,” called a little old woman, nearly bent in half and standing as high as their elbows. The two men stooped down to enter and sat by a rickety table on tiny home-made chairs. The old woman ladled their beverage from a boiling pot into two tin cups.

     Allen took a sip. “Tastes just like coffee.” 

     John stared at his cup. “What’s this white stuff on top?” 

     “No English.” The woman pointed at the white layer on top of the tea. “Curdled yak’s milk.”

     Allen drank his down. “Really good coffee.” He bowed his head to thank the old woman. 

     She nodded back and watched John as he tentatively sniffed at his cup and finally took a sip. 

     John’s face eased into a blissful smile. “That’s lovely tea. Now I’m ready to climb mountains. Om. One sip at a time.” 

Mani Stone (Wikipedia)

 Afterword: This story (967 words, just under the challenge limit of 1,000), was inspired by #BlogBattle’s challenge word for August, “tea,” and by Allen’s tales of trekking in Nepal back in the early 1970s. Today, that is, before the pandemic, about 40,000 people take the trail to Mt. Everest Base Camp each year, a sharp contrast to those less travelled times back in the 1970s. 

Both Allen and I love to travel, and in these days of stay-at-home, I enjoyed researching Nepal. Maybe someday, we’ll travel again, in search for that perfect cup of tea – and perhaps enlightenment!

Learn more about the #BlogBattle Challenge, and the rules for this month's #BlogBattle (challenge prompt = tea). Post your story by the end of this month to join in!  

Wednesday, August 05, 2020

IWSG #7: Perseverance furthers . . .

Yesterday, I sat under a canopy in the back yard with two other writers, safely distanced, as we shared our latest writings and commiserated about the changes in our lives brought by the pandemic. We ate blissful chunks of cool watermelon, drank iced coffee, and listened to our voices, winging words and hopes into the hot afternoon.

I know we writers work alone, and yet community (small gatherings like yesterday) nurtures us. In a very similar way, each month, the Insecure Writer's Support Group brings us together to reflect on a question and calls on us to support and to read what others have written. 

IWSG's August 5 question begins with an anonymous quote: "Although I have written a short story collection, the form found me and not the other way around. Don't write short stories, novels or poems. Just write your truth and your stories will mold into the shapes they need to be." Have you ever written a piece that became a form, or even a genre, you hadn't planned on writing in?

This month's question fits right into my writing journey. Way back in 2006, I retired, ready finally to write, and took my first creative writing class. We were to write ten short stories in ten short weeks. Aargh!!! But what a plunge into the unknown that was. Those stories became my first publication, The Mermaid Quilt & Other Tales

One of those stories simply led me to 1842, the Industrial Revolution, and Scotland. My first novel, historical fiction, somehow morphed into a series with two more novels.

I have learned so much through the last fourteen years about writing -- with much more to learn as I dabble with different genres and the challenges indie writers face. My latest, The Seventh Tapestry, an art crimes mystery, swirls with history and a stolen tapestry. 

All of this leads me back to yesterday afternoon, sitting in the warm afternoon, and sharing the first chapter of the next book. And to tomorrow, the next scene, this time, set in Egypt, where I once touched a pyramid at Giza.

May you be blessed with much good writing and writing friends as we continue to persevere with our craft during pandemic. 

Thank YOU to the co-hosts for this month's post for the Insecure Writer's Study Group: Susan Baury Rouchard, Nancy Gideon, Jennifer Lane, Jennifer Hawes, Chemist Ken, and Chrys Fey!