Thursday, January 08, 2009

Pretending to Be, January 8, 2009

Prompt: Write about a time you felt one way and acted another. OR (and this is kind of the same prompt but might offer some additional possibilities) write about a time you pretended to be someone or something you aren't.

And, as a writer, what are your goals for the year? Check out this blog to respond--and to learn how valuable actually writing, not just thinking about, your goals can be. (You don't have to be a fiction writer to do this. We nonfiction writers have goals too!)

By the way, this morning's Writer's Almanac featured this poem about trees. I have loved all the tree pieces--and others--that you've been sending. Don't hesitate to post comments on what you like in each other's work. And those of you who are shy about posting, and are emailing your prompt writings to me, try being brave and sharing them here. Can't hurt, can it?

Unfortunate Location

In the front yard there are three big white pines, older
than anything in the neighborhood except the stones.
Magnificent trees that toss their heads in the wind
like the spirited black horses of a troika. It's hard to
know what to do, tall dark trees on the south side of
the house, an unfortunate location, blocking the
winter sun. Dark and damp. Moss grows on the roof,
the porch timbers rot and surely the roots have
reached the old bluestone foundation. At night, in
the wind, a tree could stumble and fall killing us in
our beds. The needles fall year after year making an
acid soil where no grass grows. We rake the fallen
debris, nothing to be done, we stand around with
sticks in our hands. Wonderful trees.

by Louis Jenkins
All Tangled Up with the Living
Nineties Press, 1991

6 comments:

dee said...

A Little Racing

The heat of the summer night is heavy, pervasive. At seventeen, driving my father’s silver green Ford Galaxy 500, an ocean cruiser of a car, with power to burn, I was full of myself. With its hula hoop of a steering wheel, it’s a bear to control.

The girls in the car help me spot the cars full of boys we want to keep track of as we cruise – What-A-Burger, through town, Dairy Freeze. Around and around, occasionally parking on the street to allow other cars to catch up and see if anybody wants to hook up, if anyone has beer or pot, if anybody knows of a party.

The two guys in the Corvette are older and not really cool or they wouldn’t be talking to us. But their sleek, beautiful car helps us ignore that. There’s a small crowd around our cars and we start talking about which car is faster, letting our mouths overload our brains. In a fog of adrenalin and bravura, we head out of town to test it out.

We turn off on a side road into the country, hoping for less traffic. It’s narrow, curvy. I speed up, well past my ability to control the car, the girls are screaming for me to speed up, not let them pass. We’re going 85 and I’m trying to keep my nerve, keep my foot on the accelerator, knowing that I’m over my head, that I can’t keep up this speed. I ease up a little, just a little, and they’re past us. It’s over and we’re all still alive.

Jill said...

A Lesson in Effervescence

What’s a "collective effervescence"? I’m itching to ask, but know better. Here, in a new pocket of the country, California, and a new environment, Academia, I’m supposed to have the answers.

“So, you’re going to the collective effervescence, aren’t you?” my advisor, Prof. Holdrege, asks.

“Yes, of course,” I answer, upright in my seat, dressed in pressed slacks and a button down, shoes that pinch. But what is a collective effervescence?

I know collective means together, so I’m assuming this must be the Dept.’s version of orientation. But effervescence? How does one effervesce? And more importantly, what does one wear while effervescing? I’m guessing casual formal. I show up in the same outfit I wore to Prof. Holdrege’s office. Hopefully, she won’t notice.

People are gathered outside the beachside house, entrenched in conversation. No one says hello; only a couple look up. I try not to appear like the new kid on her first day of school. I pretend I know what I’m doing, where I’m going. I enter the house and find myself in line. The buffet line. Okay, food, I know food, I’m comfortable with food.

I grab myself a plate and a plastic fork and inch forward with expectations of potato salad, fried chicken, baked beans, the usual. But this food is different, grayer, browner, smelling of unfamiliar spices. I can’t even identify the meats, not sure which dish is vegetarian, pork, beef, or worse.

Everyone else is pointing and nodding with recognition. “Yes, this is wonderful. Judy learned how to cook it when she was studying in India.” I’ve never had Indian food, didn’t really know there were people who ate Indian food besides Indians.

I spoon a little bit of everything onto my plate. One woman asks whether I know if the moussaka is made with lamb. “Um, I believe so.” She sets down the serving spoon and moves on. I sigh, wondering, what’s moussaka?

I grab a seat as soon as I can slide out of the buffet line. I sit by myself, for a while, until a group of graduate students hunker down beside me. One introduces herself as Wendy. She’s wearing bright red lipstick and clunky shoes, tells me she studies “the Dionysian dimensions of Nietzsche.” She and another student, Jacob, launch into a Greeks versus Romans debate.

Then, to my horror, I have to speak. Jacob asks me a question. What do I study?

What do I study? Sounds simple, but this is my first formal introduction to graduate school, to the department where I plan to work and study for the next five/six years. I can’t just say, ‘Hi, I’m Jill and I’m a Leo,’ or ‘My name’s Jill and my biggest pet peeve is people that drive too slow.’ I have to say something insightful, meaningful, prove I belong in this room with these people.

I think for a minute, try to look deep in thought as I do so, and then I say, “I study Vedic rituals from Ancient Hinduism.”

I’m about to pat myself on the back when Jacob asks, “You’re not one of those Fritz Stahl fanatics, are you? His work on Vedic ritual is shoddy at best.”

“No, no, of course not,” I laugh. Who the hell is Fritz Stahl? And how the hell did I end up in this department, at this collective effervescence? I wonder how much a plane ticket home costs. And if there are any flights leaving tonight.

Kay said...

Here's another tree piece, one I just discovered. (how had I missed this one?)
The Consent

Late in November, on a single night
Not even near to freezing, the ginkgo trees
That stand along the walk drop all their leaves
In one consent, and neither to rain nor to wind
But as though to time alone: the golden and green
Leaves litter the lawn today, that yesterday
Had spread aloft their fluttering fans of light.

What signal from the stars? What senses took it in?
What in those wooden motives so decided
To strike their leaves, to down their leaves,
Rebellion or surrender? and if this
Can happen thus, what race shall be exempt?
What use to learn the lessons taught by time,
If a star at any time may tell us: Now.
poem by Howard Nemerov
from "The Western Approaches" , 1975

Carol Henderson said...

Some lines I love from these posts:

its hula hoop of a steering wheel

The girls in the car help me spot the cars full of boys we want to keep track of as we cruise – What-A-Burger, through town, Dairy Freeze.

The two guys in the Corvette are older and not really cool or they wouldn’t be talking to us.

We’re going 85 and I’m trying to keep my nerve, keep my foot on the accelerator, knowing that I’m over my head, that I can’t keep up this speed.

“Yes, of course,” I answer, upright in my seat, dressed in pressed slacks and a button down, shoes that pinch.

One woman asks whether I know if the moussaka is made with lamb. “Um, I believe so.” She sets down the serving spoon and moves on. I sigh, wondering, what’s moussaka?

She’s wearing bright red lipstick and clunky shoes, tells me she studies “the Dionysian dimensions of Nietzsche.”

“No, no, of course not,” I laugh. Who the hell is Fritz Stahl? And how the hell did I end up in this department, at this collective effervescence?


That stand along the walk drop all their leaves
In one consent, and neither to rain nor to wind
But as though to time alone:

What are some of your favorite lines?

Kay said...

It was time for the twice yearly trip to the dentist and the shopping trip downtown that always followed, the reward for not screaming or biting the dentist's hand.

"Good mawnin'," he drawled with his Georgia accent immediately catching my attention. The great girth of the dentist as he hovered over me made my little burrow in the chair darker and scary. His nurse had sent a tiny white pill with a cup of water out to the waiting room before I was called in for the appointment, and my mother had dutifully grabbed my wrist and made sure I swallowed the pill and the water. I think this pre-medication was because I had squeezed the nurse's fingers so tight that her ring left her finger bruised and bleeding last time. It could have been poison for all I knew, but I didn't squeeze anyone's hand at this visit, so later I guessed that the pill must have one to stop squeezes.

Another filling for a cavity today. No needles in my mouth, just the pill beforehand. It made the high-pitched whine of the drill seem far away, but it was still grinding away at my tooth, filling my mouth with gritty noise. No hands to hold. I guess I'll hold the chair's arm. Nope. I'll hold my own hand but not squeeze. Then tapping and tunking and scraping and another shiny piece of metal lodged in my mouth.

As we walked out into the gray streets and followed the sidewalk to the magic of department stores, I forgot about the dentist. I loved being out with my mother for our semi-annual shopping trip downtown.

I don't know exactly when the idea occurred in my fuzzied brain, but sometime after we entered the Anchor store, looked at the gloves and wallets in the display case near the door, examined the jewelry displays with the Peridot birthstone ring I was sure would be mine one day soon and took the stairs instead of the elevator to the second floor--the Children's Department, I had become a changeling. I was no longer the seven-year-old from the rural South who lived on a dirt road with no telephone lines; instead, I was a little English girl from across the seas who lived in a bustling city. Somehow I was accompanied by this mother of the other girl, who spoke with a flat accent, saying "white" as if it really was one syllable, a long "i" sound. But I, a girl who was somehow transported from England, was here in this store in this small city in North Carolina today. My purpose would be to show them how to speak with style.
"Do ye 'ave any 'eart-shaped necklaces t' go wi' these skirts, m'um?" I asked in the best imitation-British I could conjure.
If the clerk looked at me strangely, I certainly didn't notice, and I continued speaking in my new language, playing the role to perfection. When I saw Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle years later, I understood the accent I had been imitating.

My mother nor the sales clerk laughed or even acknowledged that anything was out of the ordinary. I was certain that I had fooled them both.

Kay said...

I like several of the lines you mentioned, Carol.

I am also drawn to these lines:
What in those wooden motives so decided
To strike their leaves, to down their leaves,
Rebellion or surrender?
and
What use to learn the lessons taught by time,
If a star at any time may tell us: Now.

I was drawn to this line:
driving my father’s silver green Ford Galaxy 500, an ocean cruiser of a car,

and this:
How does one effervesce? And more importantly, what does one wear while effervescing? I’m guessing casual formal.

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