I live in a town where the trees seem to grow in a slanted lean to the north. It is an exaggeration, as the wind blows from each direction on occasion, but in summer, when I most notice trees, when their leaves form canopies of green, the wind mostly comes from the south.
I have a story brewing in my head: There is a far off town, where the south wind is constant. Some days, the wind is stronger than others, but every day, all day, the wind blows. Plants bend north, people learn to walk with their bodies into the wind, always into the wind.
One day, a bright boy asks, Why does the wind always blow? And why always from the same direction? There is no answer because no one understands the question. It is like the sun in the sky, the dirt underneath their feet, the cycle of the moon. There has always been the wind. It has always been this way. It is natural.
The boy is small, and he accepts the answer. It is that way because that is the way it is. He puts the question out of his mind, until one night when he is awakened by a whisper in his room. Someone is calling his name.
All else is silence, as if the wind has stopped.
He is frightened, but gathers the courage to respond. From the corner of his room, a shadow moves, and a figure glides to the center of the room.
It speaks his name again, then adds, “Change is upon you, and everyone will be afraid. Do not give in to fear.”
The next morning, he hears it before he understands. The wind has changed direction. The world is upside down.
The narrative gets fuzzy there, but I will keep pushing at it. It will come out eventually.
The A to Z challenge is over! I want to thank all the other bloggers who have stopped by and commented on my posts. Likes are great, but it is easy to feel sometimes that we are writing only to ourselves. I am grateful for the conversations.
My goal in attempting this challenge was to rekindle my enjoyment in writing this blog. I have accomplished that goal. I am going to take a week off (a road trip to see a band I really like), but plan to write weekly again once I return. I will also continue visiting the blogs I’ve discovered during the challenge. I like the thought of being part of a writing community, a gaggle of bloggers. We are so clever, the lot of us.
I hope to chat with you all again soon.
We will keep it secret and safe.
“Since I was a girl, it has been my favorite color.”
I nod, keep digging the earth with the jagged end of a stick, carving out my middle name, forwards, backwards, upside down, inside out. She makes a list.
“Tulips, dandelions, bananas, lemonade, the yolk of a chicken egg, perfectly cooked french fries, the bow tie my grandfather wore on my 10th birthday.”
I recall her party dress, lemon cake with lemon frosting, Lemonheads in a white bowl. Fifteen children sat on the carpet in broken circles, laughter between them and the crumbs on their shirts and skirts; the smell of warm confectioners sugar and food coloring.
She rolls over, presses her back to the ground, stares into the sky.
“The stars. I almost forgot the stars and sun.”
The clouds at sunset. The sound after a kiss. The breaking of my heart.
I stop digging. In my head, I sketch her outline, just like this, just like now.
“How we need another soul to cling to, another body to keep us warm. To rest and trust; to give your soul in confidence: I need this, I need someone to pour myself into.”
– Sylvia Plath
Only one more day of the A to Z blogging challenge remains. It has been fun and difficult. I have to admit, I almost threw in the towel around R. How about the rest of you?
Club Xenon was located in the Sugarhouse neighborhood of Salt Lake City. It was one of the few places young people from different social classes, musical taste, race, religion could and would gather together. All the city kids hung out there. On weekends, us suburbanites would sometimes join in, driving from the south end of the valley, along the Interstate and into the big city.
In my memory, there were at least two dance floors- one for the top 40 hits of the day, and another for the alternative music lovers, like me and my group of friends. I can’t remember if the alternative dance floor was upstairs or down, front or back of the club, but I do remember the music, and the way kids danced to certain bands. It was the late 80’s, pre-Nirvana, the tail end of the hair bands, and hip-hop had not yet infiltrated the mainstream of white middle America. We all wore our hair long and straight. Mine was not quite as long as I wanted, and I felt some envy, watching who I thought were the cooler kids, bangs below their chins, heads down, dancing to music from bands like the Cult, Descendents, Celtic Frost, (early) Red Hot Chili Peppers, Dead Kennedys. I was into most of these bands, pretended to like the others.
While many of the details about Xenon (colors, smells, actual number of times I visited) have faded, I do remember how I felt when inside that club- a mix of excitement, fear, happiness. I was out with friends, 18 years old, feeling like I was grown up, ready to take on the world, all the while unaware of the multitude of life events that were almost upon me, lingering just outside my vision.
In the early 90’s, the club changed names and musical focus, going more Gothic, then Grunge (I hate that word), until finally, as part of the grand redevelopment plan for the area, the building was torn down in favor of a drug store.
My wife and I moved to an apartment just north of Sugarhouse in 1995, then bought our first house on the east end of the area in 2001. Living there was wonderful. It was the offbeat part of Salt Lake, a place that didn’t fit the conservative stereotype. It was different, unexpected.
Things change, and often what makes something interesting or strange draws in a crowd intent on improving it. More families moved into the area. The surrounding neighborhoods became more gentrified. The quirkiness of Sugarhouse began to be discussed using phrases like blight on the city, or a hot bed of criminal activity.
The people behind those phrases had money, and money always wins.
The area has undergone more than its share of upscale makeovers. The head-shops, piercing studios, record stores, dance clubs, and sexy boutiques have moved away or been torn down, replaced by expensive condominiums, high end restaurants and shopping. Few if any of the original buildings remain, and in many ways the area seems more bland than vibrant.
If you look though, you can still find a few amazing places-
A great coffee shop.
a few tasty pubs.
and one of the best libraries ever.
I’ve moved back to the suburbs and it was a good decision. My kids are happier, have amazing friends and opportunities, but if I am honest, I desperately miss living in Sugarhouse, even with all the changes, it still fees like home.
I go back often, it isn’t that far away.
Warning- This post is ridiculous.
-I’m just letting you know, I like to dance; everywhere and anywhere, at the drop of a hat. I dance on street corners, in shopping malls, occasionally at Brooke’s house on a Friday evening, when the room is filled with people I do not know or have just met. I have no shame. I dance at sporting events, weddings, funerals, work parties. One of my favorite places to dance is the grocery store. If you are easily embarrassed, walk slightly behind me and run at the first hint of a dance.
-I also sing loudly, in public, with an exaggerated tone, intentionally off key. If I begin singing, your cooperation and participation are expected. Failure to comply will be seen as a cowardly act on your part. Cowards and shirkers need not apply.
-Jeri Ryan was really young when she played Seven of Nine on Star Trek Voyager. Jewel Staite was also quite young when she played Kaylee on Firefly. Expecting them to be the same person many years later is ridiculous and strange. Most people change as they age. You are the unfortunate exception. Also, those were fictional characters. The actors aren’t *actually* those people. Your fantasies are dangerous. Stop stalking them, creeper.
-That shirt makes you look like a mobster. It’s not a good thing.
-Prison is not as interesting or relaxing as you might think, and certainly not a place to get caught up on all that reading you’ve been putting off. Make better decisions. There are easier ways to find some peace and quiet than killing that noisy neighbor. And don’t make threats. I’ve seen enough cop shows to know that if someone does knock off Loud Larry, you’ll find yourself across from two detectives, trying to explain how “I’ll bury you so deep, they’ll never find the body,” was hyperbole.
-The water in my bathroom sink is always too hot. Attempts to alter the temperature either at the valve or at the water heater itself have only made the other faucets run too cold. I think there is a direct line from hell to my upstairs guest bathroom. One night, I heard eerie and malevolent voices coming from the pipes. I swear I smelled sulfur. When washing your hands, be wary.
-The photo below is an example of the wrong usage of the word warning.
Attention would have been a better word choice. Commas are lacking as well, and there is no reason to use so many exclamation points. One is always more than enough. Fear not. The proper authorities have been informed and I expect severe action to be taken quite soon.
-This is caution tape. Your first clue should be the word Caution stenciled all over it. It is also usually yellow in color. If you come across caution tape, even placed as poorly as in this example, it is in your best interest not to cross over, not even just to see what might be in the hole.
Snakes. Snakes and scorpions. Cockroaches too. Maybe a dragon or an alligator. Yep, that hole is filled with reptiles and insects of all sorts. Word on the street is Timmy saw a raptor trying to climb out the other day. An actual Raptor! If you don’t believe me, go ahead, take the risk, ignore my warning.
This next part isn’t a warning, I promise.
Happy Wednesday. Thanks for stopping by. You always leave the best *likes* and comments. As a parting gift, please enjoy this song from William Elliot Whitmore.
From the time I was a boy, I always wanted to be a teacher. I’m sure there was a period where I wanted to be a fireman, or a soldier, maybe a police officer, a forest ranger. I know I harbored the delusion of being a professional athlete (a dream which took longer than it should have to fade), and being a rock star often seemed like a really fun thing to do, but in the rational part of my head, teaching was always the goal.
At first, I wanted to teach high school. I could be like Mrs. Jenkins, my 10th grade English teacher. She inspired me to do better. She was always relaxed and composed, rarely ruffled by the insanity teenagers can produce. I wanted to help create thinkers, especially out of students who didn’t think they were capable of it.
Then I met Howard Shorthill. He was an adjunct professor at the community college, 28 years old, intelligent and quit witted. He challenged me in ways I hated at first. I flunked the first course I took from him (I foolishly thought that would hurt him more than it did me). After re-evaluating my educational goal, I wanted to prove to Howard that I was better than the E I earned in his course. I took his literature classes, all four of them, as well as his writing courses. He still challenged me, but this time, I accepted. I listened. I paid attention. I learned how to think, how to question, how to evaluate evidence. I wanted to teach like Howard. I wanted to help guide struggling college students, like me.
During my time at the University of Utah, my exposure to academia (professors trying to publish and seeking tenure) killed that desire. The thought of pursuing a graduate degree in literature or writing no longer appealed to me. In my opinion, many academics see teaching as a burden. Many prefer scholarship to educating others.
I still wanted a Master’s degree, and decided to apply to graduate programs in creative writing. It seemed exciting, and it would provide the graduate degree I needed to teach junior college, which was, as always, the goal.
While awaiting my inevitable rejection letters, the library reared up and sucked me in.
I needed a part time job, something to do while waiting for schools to decide my fate. My wife suggested trying the library. I was offered a job in the circulation department and started working in August of 2000.
It took less than three months before I knew I’d stumbled into the career of my dreams. Librarianship combined many the things I loved, wrapped in a clever little package.
Again, I listened. I paid attention. I watched Librarians at work. When I felt ready, I applied to a graduate program and earned a Master’s degree in Library Science.
Being a Librarian was/is amazing. I was finally a teacher, but instead of being limited to one discipline, I was able to help people find information on and learn about thousands of different topics. Working a reference desk, on any given day, I would be asked questions about UFO’s, then witchcraft, followed by someone who wanted to build a deck, or get grant information for a business start up. Every day was different, and while I had my fair share of “where’s the bathroom” moments, I was challenged by my work, and inspired to learn better ways of serving patrons.
After several years at the main library, I transferred to a branch library in a low income community. Many of the patrons did not have internet access at home, couldn’t afford to buy books or movies, and used the library as their primary information source. It was a hard place to work. At times, I despised going, but if I’m honest, it was infinitely rewarding.
Teaching people not only how to find information, but evaluate its content, became my passion. I thought I had found the vocation I would do until I couldn’t do anything anymore. I made connections with patrons, other Librarians, and library employees that developed into intimate friendships. Librarians are some of the funniest, smartest, best looking people on the planet. If you get a chance to attend an event full of Librarians, I suggest you go. It will be one of the best nights in your memory. I dare say, it will change your life.
Leaving the library was among the hardest choices of my life. I knew I needed to be at home with my boys, and they needed me more than I needed the library. Sometimes, I ponder returning, but I have come to terms with the fact that the library portion of my life is over. I am different, and need different things. I will always hold the memories close and advocate for libraries whenever I can. They are places of absolute integrity, not about money or profit, and strive to benefit and serve everyone in their community. There are few places, few careers that can boast something like that.
Here are few snaps of the Salt Lake City Public Library
An image from an average day at the Riverside Library, where I spent four of my ten years working for the library.
Saw you on 34th and 7th. Thursday the 8th, around 2 in the afternoon.
Hey, Tall Dark and Handsome.
I like saying that as if it is your name. In fact, as I was typing this, I said it out loud five times. Hey, Tall Dark and Handsome. It almost dances off the tongue, don’t you think?
I’ve seen you many times before, and sometimes, I wonder if you’re everywhere, lingering on all the different corners, your back against a building, gazing over a crowd of tourists, walking briskly on your way to work or standing on the curb, hailing a taxi. I’ve thought to say hello, introduce myself, but there is always something holding me back- old anxieties, new ones, the monitor on my left ankle, always blinking up at me (that’s a joke, I promise).
I saw you again two weeks ago Thursday.
You were walking this time, right hand in the front pocket of those deep gray tailored slacks you like to wear. I sometimes wonder if you own five pair. They fit wonderfully, but you must know that, can feel it when you run your hands over the fabric as you pull them on, fasten them.
Instead of the pastel button down (and dark colored tie of the same hue) you usually wear, you’d chosen a forest green golf shirt, which surprised me a little. It’s alright, I like surprises. They keep me on my toes.
You turned left at the intersection (another surprise) and walked at a brisk pace for several minutes. Something important was on your mind. I didn’t like the way whatever was worrying you wrinkled the skin next to your ears and eyes. I wouldn’t say it made you unattractive, but it added an unwelcome element to your overall persona that gave me pause. I have to admit, I almost walked away, but I had to know where you were going first.
I didn’t hear what you called her (I’ll pretend it was Beulah, I’ve always hated that name), and I pretended not to notice the way she touched your shoulder, so natural, like her hand belonged on your body. I even tired not to notice if she was pretty (I guess some might find her so), or if she were thin, heavy, or athletic (she was frail, shorter than me, but more hippy, if that’s a thing).
The two of you sat out on the cafe patio in plastic chairs around a plastic table, and the server brought water first, then pretentious white wine for her, a glass of something caramel colored for you. I watched with fascination as you sipped without a grimace, the fullness of your lower lip exposed on the bottom of the glass. Then you winked at her. The act gave you an unexpected humanness, and for a moment, I had to turn away.
When I looked back, she’d placed her hand in yours, and it was clear the conversation had turned. I thought I saw tears on her cheeks, and a deep sigh come from your chest. For the briefest moment I hoped I was watching the break-up, the end of the relationship, and I almost felt sad, as if somehow I was to blame for what had transpired.
Then I saw it on her finger, a platinum band and six smaller stones surrounding an epic diamond in the middle. You’d asked, and she’d said yes.
I slumped down onto the sidewalk, feeling that all to familiar sensation: a mix of hatred, sadness and repugnance. A sudden sickness overwhelmed me. I stood and rushed to a nearby garbage bin. As I threw up, through the choking and stinging tears, it came to me. I knew what to do, I just knew.
They won’t find her body, at least not anytime soon. I observe and watch. I take careful notes. I’m cautious and deliberate. I make sure. I’m always sure.
In time, you’ll get over her. The sadness will be gone, and you’ll understand. You’ll be free. Any lingering memories will be like tiny pin pricks, moments when you’ll feel gratitude that her vanishing kept you from making the worst mistake of your life.
When that day comes, and it will, I’ll be ready, waiting.
One afternoon, you will round a corner, that placid look I adore so much back on your face, and I will be there, in the center of the sidewalk, arms open, ready to love you in the way you deserve. Because just like you, I am everywhere. Unlike you, I see everything.
Until then, I will be patient.
All my love,
I wandered the tundra, my ears to the sky, chasing thunder…
I have always adored thunderstorms.
I live in a high desert valley in the state of Utah. We get some really good thunder, loud crackling, popping stuff, the kind that wakes you in the night. But it doesn’t rain too often or too much here, not like the mid-western portion of the United States, where I once found myself in the most terrify storm I had ever seen.
We were driving home from a trip to visit friends in Wisconsin. It was close to 7 P.M, a cool summer night, and weather reports called for heavy rains. Travelers were advised to pull over and seek shelter. Not wanting to get stuck on the Interstate in those conditions, we found a suitable room in the town of Ogallala, Nebraska to hunker down for the night.
Other travelers were thinking the same thing, and the motel was bustling with people. Dozens of kids swam in the pool, parents laughed, scolded, and looking at the pale evening sky, I thought we may have misjudged the severity of the situation.
We retired to our room to watch some television and relax from the long day of driving. Soon after, I heard the wind. It rose up suddenly, a howling, eerie sound that whipped through the buildings of the motel. The lights flickered. The television lost signal. Curious, my wife and I went outside and stood, gazing out in amazement.
It was just after 8 P.M, but the world was midnight black. Never had I witnessed the sky become so dark, so quickly. Sudden flashes of lighting lit up the landscape with tiny electric explosions, through which I could see the approaching rain. Oh, the rain. Deafening sheets of it started to fall on the aluminum roof of the hotel patio. If I had dared walk out into it, I might be pressed to the ground by the weight of the water.
And the thunder. I had never heard any sky make so much noise. Only an act of will kept me from covering my ears, like a startled child, with each rumble. It was astounding, humbling. Though we were relatively safe and dry under the awning, I felt exposed, thrilled and exhilarated. The storm lasted almost an hour, and we stood watching most of it. I admit, I worried about tornadoes all night and didn’t sleep much.
That night remains a favorite memory.
A favorite image of a Utah storm from last spring.
The last of them had gone, leaving behind stacks of empty cans, tipped over bottles, crumbled and crushed food in the rug. It had been a great night.
Martin flopped on the sofa, letting the plush, welcoming cushions absorb his weight. Casually, he used his left foot to push aside a few items from the corner of the cracked coffee table (the result of an impressive night of mock wrestling gone too far. Jacob still wore the battle scar near his eye), then put both feet, one over the other on the glass surface.
Head back, his brain swimming, he finally realized how much alcohol he’d consumed that evening.
Many of his friends had come. Some he had not expected to see. He thought of Odette, the way she’d lingered close to the kitchen, her hand clutching a plastic cup to her left shoulder, the coy smile as he approached, and her subtle look-away when she lightly touched his arm (which made his heart skip).
He ran his finger over his lips, pretending the salty residue was a remnant of her kiss. He would call her in the morning, at least text, tell her how happy he was she had come. If overcome by a sudden surge of bravery, he might even ask her out. Stranger things and all.
Various scenarios ran through his mind. He closed his eyes and let them go where they wanted. Imagination obliged. He was happy in his distraction. So much so, he failed to hear the door creak open, didn’t notice the sound of someone walking across the floor into the living room, failed to sense the shadow as it passed over his legs, up his body, until it finally stilled, resting patiently on his face.
I’m feeling quiet today, reflective, reticent.
This blogging challenge is to blame, I’d wager. I’m swimming through old waters, my toes are bound to stir up some silt.
Yesterday, after writing about a portion of my community college experience, I found myself on that campus, waiting to hear a friend of mine read poetry from her prize winning chapbook. She worked hard and deserves some praise.
Full disclosure: I knew I was going to be on campus when I wrote yesterday. Thinking about my own time at school was inevitable. I was good to write about some of it. I was not however, ready for the rush of emotions I encountered before, during, and after the reading.
The reception and ceremony took place in a building that did not exist when I was a student. It is a beautiful space, and as I walked through it, by classrooms where evening students were being taught, I couldn’t help but wonder where two decades had gone. I was overcome by something I did not expect- Awkwardness. I felt out of place in a place I never felt out of place. I tried to keep composed, but I was suddenly sweaty and hyper-aware of everyone around me.
The reading was beautiful (even if I thought the poetry judge took a bit too much time reading from her own chapbook), and it reminded me of so many other readings, author events, academic lectures, I had attended. My friend was appropriately nervous and grateful. Her tiny smile made me laugh, and while I remained uncomfortable, I didn’t let that diminish my enjoyment of her success.
After the reading ended, I said my congratulations, grabbed a hug and a cookie and went for a walk.
The campus has changed. Different faces wander the sidewalks and sit in the classes. The trees are taller in some locations, noticeably absent in others. Entire sections of the campus are redesigned, and the old Administration building has been razed, replaced by a vast green space.
I did not recognize the Quad at all. The comfortable and inviting space I once knew is gone. In its place, something sterile has grown out of the concrete. I know I sound like the bitter and confused middle age man I am, but it was sad for me to see.
R is for recursive
I turned to walk back to my car, ready to leave this altered place behind when I saw them. They weren’t the first I’d encountered on my walk, but they stood out. Students, four of them, coming out of a building where I had also once attended class. I did not see myself in them, or my friends in the others. Three women, one man walked towards the Student Center, backpacks over their shoulders, finished for the evening, or perhaps taking a break between courses. They are going places, walking paths I never will, but were starting the journey in a similar place. Seeing them made me feel better, less out of sorts and out of touch. I left smiling.
Things come and go, places change as well as people. Still, there is a continuity, a returning loop that continues outward and onward, and that pleases me more than I can say.
As I’m editing this, I learn that Prince is dead. Too many icons gone too young. This year needs to stop.
I am thankful for my bad decisions.
Horrible high school grades and a lack of funds limited my college options. Honestly, it was a battle between Salt Lake Community College or Salt Lake Community College.
Choices have context, and consequences.
I’ve been lucky. Many of my bad decisions have been blessings in the end. Few people in my financial situation, with barely a high school diploma (thanks, extra credit for being on the basketball team one year), end up with a Master’s degree and the career of their choice. I am grateful for my opportunities. I was fortunate.
The community college was a great place for me. After nearly flunking out my first year, I had a crisis of faith and direction. My initial degree plan felt like a pathway to misery, and I took a semester off to figure out what to do. I decided it was more important to be happy with my degree, than be miserable but assured I would make some money. I followed my heart, studied English and Literature, taking every course I could. I finally learned how to study, and was exposed to ideas and ways of thinking I’d never considered. Much of what I believe about the world today went through its infancy on that campus.
The crisis of faith was also a huge factor. Unencumbered by self imposed restraints, I felt free for the first time to chose what I wanted, not what others expected of me. Again, I’ve been fortunate. Even though I no longer believe everything I once did, because of the particular Christian denomination I was part of, I met my wife, who is without doubt the best person I know. She has enriched my life immensely and any goodness I contribute to the world, I owe to her patience and love.
Two of the most influential people in my life also ended up at the community college. We met in a Women’s Studies class. It’s funny to think back and remember that at first, we wanted nothing to do with one another. Amanda was from Ohio and was my age (24). Amy was barely 18, just out of high school.
As the class progressed, we found ourselves working through ideas together during class discussions. Sometimes these conversations continued after class. We realized we shared many things in common, and started to get together outside of class.
We often met on the Quad- The area between the four main buildings on campus. A fountain rested in the intersection of four sidewalks. Steps surrounded the fountain, making it an ideal place for students to sit, soak in some sun, and meet with friends.
The three of us spent way too much time on those steps. We rarely talked about serious things, though we had some intense interactions. Mostly we complained to each other about various things, or laughed at bad jokes and odd experiences. The Quad was the place for the unimportant, which made the relationship even more important to me.
As is the case with all things, our time together was too short. A year later, Amanda moved on and I lost track of her. She does that. It was how she ended up in Salt Lake in the first place. She needs new locations, new challenges from time to time.
Amy and I both went to the University of Utah, but saw each other less. I called her from time to time, saw her on campus when opportunity allowed, but we were both busy with jobs, school, relationships.
Years went by, but I often thought about those two. Amy and I stayed in touch, and through sheer will on both our parts, regained much of our closeness.
Amanda was missing for 15 years. I would look for information about her on the Web, but came up empty. At work one afternoon, I was browsing LinkedIn and found her profile. I was shocked. A moment later, I was sending her a message. She was thrilled to hear from me, and shocker of shockers, was actually moving back to Salt Lake City.
We met for the first time since college at my 40th birthday party. I hugged her and held her close. There wasn’t one awkward second between us.
The three of us met up a few times over the next year, sharing coffee or beer. I became closer to her than during our time at school. Then as she must, Amanda left again. Some souls need to wander. This time though, thanks to the Internet, she isn’t getting away from me again.