Turning Away

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but I would gladly read ten thousand, a hundred thousand, a million words if it meant I’d never have to look at another picture of a dead child.

The U.N. estimates that sixteen million Syrians are in need of assistance both inside and outside Syria. I wish it was an isolated incident, but it’s not. Civil wars, genocide, hate crimes, school shootings, child abuse, animal abuse, environmental destruction, human trafficking, addictions, widespread illness, murders, oppression. Every day. All symptoms of the same disease.

And all beamed straight into your brain five times daily via the local news. The pictures and videos that are too graphic—too disturbing—to show on network television flash all over social media.

Why?

What purpose does it serve to strobe despair at the masses like some psychotic disco? For a certain small segment, it springs them into action. These are the first responders and humanitarians of the world. We could use more of them.

For others, likely the majority, it desensitizes them so that they turn the dial, tuning out the world’s keening cries for help. It’s just part of the state of the world. How sad, they think as they pour another cup of coffee before firing up their fuel-efficient late model car and driving themselves to their nine-to-five, all the while on their society-induced autopilot.

But what about the rest? The ones who can’t desensitize. The ones like me.  Frequently overwhelmed by the state of the world, I can rarely think about the ever-present poverty, violence, and apathy without being moved to nausea, or tears, or both. I long so intensely for a better world that I shake with it, unable to control my body as the rising tide of emotion threatens to drown me.

So the ones like me? We turn away. In the end, we do nothing. The visceral pain of wanting to fix everything, but being unable to, is beyond anything I can explain. I add my keening to all the rest, part of the cacophony of anguish that never quite separates into its individual notes.

What’s the solution then? We could engage in our armchair religion, uttering a five second prayer before flipping the channel to the imperial circus of professional sports. Or we could actually, really do something. But what? What could we accomplish in the physical realm?

I don’t know. All I know is the world needs us all if we’re going to cure this global disease. Don’t make us stop listening. Don’t make us turn away.

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Fish Fiasco

We lost our beloved fishy friend, Stripey, today. And it was Lane’s fault.

Okay, so he wasn’t that beloved, and he wasn’t named Stripey. In fact, he didn’t have a name. Perhaps he deserved one. But in any case, it was Lane’s fault, and she was very upset about the whole thing, but not for the reasons you might think.

To start, I had no idea any of this was going on. Was I in the next room? Yes. Was I conscious? Yes. Was I staring at an electronic screen and/or reading? No. So I should have been golden, but no. Lane was quiet. Super quiet. Preschool ninja master quiet.

The only reason I found out was because Jewel came running into the room holding up something small and jiggly with dark stripes. It was one of the tiger barbs from our 125-gallon freshwater aquarium.

“Lane was keeping this!” Her mouth turned down with disgust, and she held the poor, dead fish as far away from herself as possible. Stripey promptly received a… ahem… burial at sea.

It was time for me to investigate. I donned my imaginary deerstalker hat, clamped my imaginary tobacco pipe between my teeth, and strode the twenty steps into the front room to look for clues. And there they were. The open top, the net askew on the table in front of the tank, water splashed around, pink plastic Easter bucket suspiciously wet inside.

So what did I deduce? Or, rather, what did Lane tell Jewel, who told me? Lane took the net, shoved it in the tank, and nabbed whatever poor schmuck-of-a-fish swam into it. Then she dumped it into the cheery pink bucket and watched. I imagined the little slimy thing, mouth gaping, trying desperately to breathe. It didn’t stand a chance.

I asked her why she murdered the fish (no, I didn’t use that word… she’s four… I’m not completely heartless).

“I wanted to eat it. I like eating that kind of fish,” she said.

My mouth hung open, my eyes wide in a fixed stare of surprise and disgust, not unlike the probable expression of the newly expired fish. I kindly explained that we don’t under any circumstances eat our aquarium fish. At all. Ever.

Poor Lane was distraught. Was it because she had killed a living, breathing creature? Nope. You want to know why she was upset? It was because I wouldn’t let her eat the fish. She simply couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t let her consume the flesh of our doomed aquarium pet.

Yup.

I’ve been known to say that Lane is my most interesting child. My friend, Mary, asked me just the other day why I so frequently say such things. Well, now you know. It’s because of times like these. Every day is an adventure, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. Nor should it.

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Ode to Sweats

I don’t often write poetry, but when I do it’s usually silly. This poem is no exception. This is in honor of the coldish weather we may or may not be getting tonight.

Ode to Sweats

Some days I wake up

if I’m lucky

and rise to meet the cool, brilliant light

of another winter morning,

blinding me.

Staggering, squinting, staring

into the mirror.

I know

today was made for sweats

and a hat.

 

My sweatshirt.

Big, purple, forgiving

Gained ten pounds or lost twenty-five.

Bra? Deodorant?

No one knows but me

and God, but he saves

his eye for the sparrow,

not my underwire and armpits.

 

My sweatpants

or Hubcap’s.

Neither of us can tell anymore.

My hat,

stained with sweat, smoke, grease

of a hundred camping trips.

It used to be green.

 

I put it all on

and stand there.

Comfortable.

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Christmas Fun

Every year the members of Trinity Writers Workshop gather at the Stockyards on a Saturday in December and make our yearly contribution of Christmas cheer. This year we’ll be manning our table on Saturday, December 20, from 12:00 to 2:00. That’s this Saturday, folks. We’ll be handing out our annual Christmas books filled with stories and poems from our members, and we’ll be helping the little ones write letters to Santa, who is conveniently next to our table. It’s tons of fun, and there are lots of Christmas activities for the whole family, so come on out and visit us!

As a preview to the TWW Christmas book, I’m posting my story for this year. It was a lot of fun to write, and I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. Merry Christmas!

 

It’s an Ornamental Life

“Ah, it feels good to stretch my leg again,” said the miniature woman’s leg wearing a fishnet stocking and a lampshade.

“S-s-speak for y-y-yourself,” said a bikini-clad flamingo through a chattering beak. “My feathers are tropical. They aren’t designed to keep me warm in the snow.”

“Your feathers aren’t real. They’re plastic,” snapped the picture of an eleven year old girl, her blond ponytail set stylishly to the side, her bell shaped frame made of white cardstock and embellished with glitter and the words Christmas 1987. “Besides, it doesn’t snow inside the house.”

“Ho ho ho!” laughed the Coca Cola bottle painted to look like an old-fashioned Santa. His illustrated hands patted his glass belly, but instead of jiggling, he sloshed. “Excuse me,” he bubbled, and an extra measure of pink appeared on his already rosy cheeks.

“Oh my,”said Sulu.

“It is not logical for you to feel cold,” said Spock, holding a pair of binoculars.

“It’s not about… logic… Spock. It’s about… feelings,” said Captain Kirk, his phaser perpetually pointing at some unseen, but imminent danger.

“Oh, like any of you know,” said the girl, rolling her eyes. “You’re Christmas decorations! Or haven’t you noticed?”

“Please, Melody, be kind,” said the white porcelain angel. Her body and wings were misshapen and spidered with shining yellow cracks where she had been badly broken and unskillfully glued back together. “This year is difficult enough without everyone bickering.”

“Oh, don’t get your shards in a twist,” grumbled the picture of Melody, but she said no more.

“Calm yourselves,” said the slow, deep voice of Tree. His branches settled a little lower, his plastic needles bristling and crinkling against each other. “Angel is right. We need to shine our brightest to support the family. This year will be hard for everyone, especially Gramps.” They all glanced at the new ornament on the front of the tree, a frosted glass vignette with the sleeping portrait of a gray-haired lady.

Just then, the family piled into the small, comfortable living room. Gramps held the smiling and cooing baby bundled in a blanket. Six other children from toddlers to teens milled around the room examining the presents and decorations while their parents looked on with nostalgic smiles.

“It’s not the same without Mom,” said Melody, now a grown up version of the girl in the picture. She gazed at the tree, which glimmered and gleamed before her. “I wish she was here to see this. The tree looks beautiful.” She sighed and put her fingers up to the golden angel pendant she always wore.

“I remember when she gave that to you,” said Gramps, walking up behind her and putting a hand on her shoulder. “You loved that angel ornament as much as she did, and you were so upset when you broke it. After you went to all that trouble of gluing it back together, she wanted you to have an angel of your own.” They rested their eyes on the porcelain angel and smiled, and its wings seemed just a little straighter than before. Melody wiped a tear from her eye.

“What about the time Mike took a bite out of the gingerbread man ornament?” asked Martin, grinning. He was nearing forty and the spitting image of his father, right down to the twinkle of mischief in his eye.

“Hey, I didn’t know it was salt dough,” said Mike. Everyone laughed.

“You found out real quick,” said Gramps. “The way you were carrying on, sputtering and spitting, we thought you were going to throw up all over the presents!” Gramps walked over to the couch and sat down next to Mike. “Your mom laughed so hard she cried, and that upset you all over again. You were so unhappy you made your mom cry that you started bawling.”

“You always were the sensitive one,” interjected Martin, lightly kicking his brother’s shoe. Mike rolled his eyes.

“Well, when you started crying, that made your mother cry for real. She thought you were the sweetest little thing to be so concerned about her feelings like that.” Gramps sighed, still smiling. “She was a good one, for sure, your mother. She put up with me for a long time.”

“Yeah,” said Mike. “Like the time you brought home…”

“The rainbow tree!” shouted a chorus of voices which broke into gales of laughter.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen Mom so angry with you, Dad,” said Melody.

“A rainbow tree? Cool! But why would that make Granny angry?” asked six-year-old Sarah, her brow furrowed. Then she smiled. “Was it sparkly?”

“It was,” said Melody, tweaking Sarah’s nose.

“You see, Sweetie, Granny sent Gramps out to buy a new tree a few days before Christmas,” said Martin. “But trees that close to Christmas are expensive, and Gramps is cheap.”

“Ahem. I am not cheap. I’m frugal, thank you very much,” said Gramps. He tried to look offended, but his smile crept through.

“Like I said, Gramps is cheap. Anyway, he found a nice big ten footer on clearance. Trouble was, it was super bright and had branches in about eight different neon colors, and Granny liked more, uh, traditional trees. But Gramps figured she would be so happy about the price tag that she would ignore the color, especially after he told her it couldn’t be returned.” Martin chuckled.

“What did Granny do?” asked Sarah, wide-eyed.

“She didn’t speak to me for two days! I thought it was going to be a silent Christmas,” said Gramps. They all laughed again.

“She also flat out refused to decorate it,” said Mike, grinning from ear to ear. “But finally, late on Christmas Eve, we kids begged her so much that she let us dig out the ornaments and put them on. But she still wouldn’t touch it.” He shook his head, still smiling. A happy, thoughtful silence filled the room.

“Gramps, are you going to read The Night Before Christmas?” asked Sarah after a minute. She climbed into his lap and hugged him.

“Not this year, Sweetheart.” Gramps smiled down at her sweet face and brushed a blond ringlet from her eyes. “I’ve done my years. It’s your daddy’s turn to make those memories.”

At his father’s words, Martin smiled and walked over to the bookcase. He lifted the book from the shelf as his father had done every year for as long as he could remember. He settled in his mother’s old wooden rocker and opened it up as the whole family, young and old, gathered around, brought together by the warm comfortable promise of sugar plums and reindeer. And then he began to read.

Behind Martin, the lights twinkled brighter than ever. The branches of Tree along with the angel, flamingos, Spock, Kirk, Sulu, Melody, and Coca Cola Santa sighed and swayed with a gentle, unseen breeze. And the new ornament at the front of the tree, the kind, smiling face of an old woman, gazed out upon her family and allowed a single pale, painted tear to glisten on her soft pink cheek.

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Fairs and Feet

This morning I went to the Homeschool Book Fair with my friend, Kate. We live on opposite sides of town, so we agreed to meet there. I drove into downtown Fort Worth, paid for my parking, and walked toward the Fort Worth Convention Center. Meanwhile, I texted Kate to ask her where we were meeting.

“I’m hanging out by the front door inside to the right.”

Fabulous. I looked at the convention center and tried to figure out which door was the front door. I’m pretty sure that place holds the record for Most Entrances into a City Convention Center. I started to walk around it to find the front entrance, texting just in case to ask which one it was.

“Follow the hoards!” And then… “The door facing the ballpark.”

There’s a ballpark? Well, sort of, but not really near the convention center. I looked around. No hoards. Maybe the hoards were on the other side of the building, where this so-called ballpark was? So while I walked the perimeter looking for the entrance facing the nonexistent ballpark, I began to get a sinking feeling in my gut. I sat on a boulder, pulled out my phone, and looked up the Homeschool Book Fair website.

It was in Arlington. It was actually in the town I live in and I drove all the way here instead. And I paid five bucks to park. Cue dramatic sigh.

Trek back to car. Drive thirty minutes to Arlington. Pay five bucks to park (again). Walk into (correct) convention center. Whew!

But then there was this other problem…

The previous night while I was sitting in my husband’s office chair I kept smelling this odor. Like feet. I was smelling feet. I looked around, trying to find the source, but I couldn’t find it anywhere. Eventually it faded, and I lost interest.

Fast forward to today. I got in the car, and I smelled feet again. What was the deal? I mean, really! Was the smell following me? But I turned on the car, pumped out the A/C, turned on the radio, and was soon transported away by the tunes wafting into my ears. When I eventually arrived at the proper convention center (*ahem*) and walked in, I paused just inside the big double doors to get my bearings. There it was again. Feet. Followed by yet another sinking feeling.

It was me.

I reeked. My pants, my shirt, and the shirt I had worn the night before all came from the same load of laundry. Evidently it had sat in the washer a little too long before being moved to the dryer.

I shuffled off, dejected, to find Kate, my stench clearing the way ahead of me through all the clean, non-feet-smelling bodies. Would all these people think I had horrible foot odor? Which was worse, smelly feet or smelly clothes? Did it even matter? I didn’t know, and I didn’t want to know. I just wanted to enjoy the fair.

And I did.

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A Toddler Stalks Her Prey

The juvenile female eyes her prey across a toy-strewn carpeted jungle. Little more than a baby at 17 months old, nature has still provided her with the reflexes and coordination for her task. Her prey, a juvenile male of the species, less than a year older than she, sits distracted by the glowing box a few feet away.

She uses neither teeth nor claws. Instead she fashions a rudimentary club from a miniature broomstick.

Crouching, she watches and waits for the right moment to pounce. She sees her opportunity, sidles up to the male, and strikes. She makes contact with a satisfying thwack.

Retreating out of range for retaliation, she celebrates her victory by singing the song of her people, a cackle which can be heard across the entire range of her habitat. Triumphant, she wanders off in search of food for her growing body. She will hunt again another day.

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Profiles in Awkwardness

The writers’ group I attend, Trinity Writers’ Workshop, recently asked its members for blog posts for the group’s website. I figured it would be a fun thing to do since I hadn’t written one in a while. Eventually this story will be featured on their blog, but I decided to post it here as well, especially since it’s mostly a different audience here. This story was a moment in my life that was just begging to be written down. I hope you enjoy.
 
*     *     *
 
It’s fake Thanksgiving, and I’m anxious. Even though the people around me are known and loved, I’m in a crowd. I don’t like crowds. Even at my church’s annual Thanksgiving Dinner. My hands and upper lip sweat profusely, and I struggle to keep hold of my wriggling toddler. My cheeks flush, and I feel hot.
We’re a little later than most of the crowd, so I hunt for a table with enough empty seats for myself and my two girls. My husband is playing Navy as one of his monthly reserve weekends. The Navy is really talented at picking important dates for drill. Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, our children’s birthdays. Give me pretty much any important occasion in our family’s life during the year, and there will be drill on that weekend. But I digress.
I spot a table with only two ladies. I don’t recognize these ladies, so I figure they are new to the church. And there’s nothing quite like meeting new people during a mild panic attack, right? So I steer myself and my oldest toward the table, and we introduce ourselves and sit down. Mercifully, seeing one red-faced mom and two small children, someone brings us food instead of having to wait in line. Bless them.
As I cut, doctor, and re-distribute offensive food (in preschool eyes) for my children, I try to engage these ladies in conversation. I ask the older one, “So, what do you do?”
“I’m disabled.”
Sweat beads on my forehead. I try the younger one. “What do you do, then?”
“I’m unemployed.”
My left eye twitches. I start praying. I guess I should have thought of that earlier. God is merciful, though, and sends over Linda (we’ll call her), who knows these ladies and smoothes over the conversation a bit.
“Hi, Linda! How are you?” I say, a little too brightly. As it turns out, Linda’s been sick. I feel bad for her, but her talking about her illness gives me a few moments of respite. I lose track of the conversation about the time that I realize that the rest of the table is staring at me. I think, Were you talking to me?
“I’m sorry, were you talking to me?” The three sets of eyes staring at me like I’d just sprouted an extra arm tell me that when I asked that question in my head less than five seconds earlier, I had actually spoken it aloud. I just asked the same question twice in ten seconds. Smooth.
I am normal! I have social skills! I want to scream it out for the whole world to hear, but I figure I’ve done enough damage for one day.
I decide to cut my losses, and I get out of there as quickly as manners allow. I hope the turkey was good. I don’t really remember.

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