Archive for the Category »Stories «

Feb
06

Two more of my scary short stories have been added to ebook retailers under my alter ego CC Geddes. Published by Lucky Bat Books.

A Pleasing Shape is a depressing, dark little bit of nastiness that made sense when I wrote it. It obviously made sense to the magazine editor who published it way back when too. But now? I honestly have no idea what I had in mind. I remember thinking it was quite profound. If anyone can make sense of it, I’d like to hear it!

The Nerve is a scary look at perception vs reality and how those are shaped by the assumptions of people around us. I was particularly interested in how easily the perceptions of the very old and very young are dismissed. But mostly, what people seem to take away from this story is how awful a common desk-drawer implement can become in a moment of desperation. This story is not for the squeamish!

It’s nice to have my work going out in the world again! It’s been a long hiatus for my fiction, especially my dark fiction.

 

Oct
10
Stacey

Warrior Woman Stacey

You know how sometimes you meet people and instantly think, “Oh, I want to be like you when I grow up” whether or not they are actually older than you? Well, my friend Stacey Spain is one of those for me. She has been since I met her some ten years ago. She has one of those electric smiles that seem to start in her face and go all the way to her toes. She has a big personality to go with a big brain and hugs with her whole being.

Stacey was one of my warrior women at Burning Man. She was one of my tethers during the Temple burn. It was her leg I clung to when I cried.

After we all got back and decompressed (and got clean!), she sent me a piece of writing, and it knocked the wind out of me. It is her POV of what I wrote about last time (though she wrote hers first). I have always loved her writing, even though she doesn’t do nearly enough of it. So I asked if I could post it on my blog. Then I asked her to write a little intro. Then I was so embarrassed by the complimentary nature of her intro I didn’t post it. Since I am trying really hard to get past the voices in my head that tell me I suck, I am finally trying to post it. Because it’s too pretty not to take flight.

***

I’m supposed to be writing an introduction for a another bit of writing I did – but I can’t yet because I’m not done writing about Cindie – forgive me, indulge me – let me say these words and then I’ll give you the three sentence mouthful you need to set the scene for our small playa adventure.

Maybe I only need a handful of friends – but these few are the ones I can say all the words to, they can hear it all without blinking.  Cindie Geddes, when I met her, was completely engaged in working with kids helping them find their voices in writing.  She was a quiet, soft and strong presence for these young women and honestly I wished I was one of them.  She is a contradiction: shy and blunt, whip smart and so soft hearted … it took me a while to unravel her a bit – she gave me a present, said:  “You’ll make a hugger out of me yet!”  I expect that bravery from her, I expect her to be healing and growing and finding her fullness.  I see her as complete because I know the arc of her journey.

When I speak of my girlhood I have to take care for the listeners – I know it is difficult to hear and understand my particular truth.  But Cindie, also a survivor (stupid word – is there a word beginning with triumphant embracer of the gifts of her life?). Cindie has heard my story and we can even laugh at it, them, us, being who we are now.  She is also blessed with her J man and boy people, her Jason and Joe, who I know are bedrock for her growth.  When someone you see as strong allows themselves to be vulnerable it can be healing for all who witness it – I was a witness and am grateful.

Ok – so I write plays, the words I put down on paper are usually meant to be said aloud.  I am a performance artist and have five one-woman shows in my bag of tricks.  I have worked professionally in the theater and completed my education with a bunch of initials behind my name.  That gave me time to only do the thing I love, so I am grateful.  Now I have an amazing 24-year-old son, a sweet 6-year-old daughter and a busy happy full life, counting the dog and the goldfish.  I also act and direct locally and am lucky enough to get to teach theater along with my full-time job as an arts administrator.  Sometimes I forget to write (you know, for years) and then someone nudges me to get going again.  Cindie did it to me – this is her fault.  Thank you, Cindie – now I have to go write about the rest of my handful of friends.  But her – she is my bird woman, and I love to see her fly.

What Remains on the Ground

(by Stacey Spain)

Quiet reverence broken by drunken yells rolling back to silence.  Holding small bird hand on one side and beloved strong moving hand on the other – but the connection is felt to others – the echo of a younger self one handspan away.  This temple burns low to the ground connected to us through alkali dust. She is in flux, in flamed and sends embers to wet our dry eyes.  Dust spins toward us with collected memory rising, taking away thoughts, devotions, intentions on a column toward stars – this the best night cathedral.  The flames lick us, embers tease and bite but no harm floating over heads … sweet male voice from behind: “Goggle ups folks, protect your eyes.”  And we do, protect our eyes as they witness this burning that marks a new year.  Then she is down, hurrying toward the ground to embrace it with her ember and ash arms. People rush forward to dance there in the heat, the circle shrinking fast but by the sound I know our job is to stay here.  This sound, for me makes it possible to release, this sobbing eases my throat around a hard spot, and I cry.  Our bird woman is left on the ground as they rush around her toward their joy.  I rise and stand over her – no one will disturb this moment, no one will hurt her here and now.  We are a triangle around her – maiden, mother and crone.  We make the river of people move like water around us by our grounded presence and she has the space to breathe, to cry, to heal.  Standing four feet away that sweet man in dusty clothes hovers, not too close, to see we can do this, to witness this rebirth, to be a guardian in this night.  And after, laughter and breathing with a chorus of Stand by Me.  I will – stand by her — and them, to witness and grow together on the ground.

How lucky am I?!

Sep
21

the man

the man

Burning Man was a mixed bag this year, kinda like after trick or treating and you separate the chocolate from the nasty little hard candies. It’s all still candy, but …

There was fun, there was dust, there was too many people (especially unappreciative frat boys obsessed with who was getting laid how many times). There was alcohol gone bad (do NOT mix tequila with Gatorade) and a really great hand massage.

There was a trophy we handed out to people we thought were the best of whatever we liked. And Kidsville like a little oasis of innocence and real play in the middle of what seemed more adult to me than it did the year before.

The vibe wasn’t as friendly and joyful as last year. Last year was more like, “Hey, I’m so glad you’re here! Have a slice of orange!” This year was more like, “Whoo! Show me your tits!” Not too surprising with the theme of Metropolis (compared to last year’s Evolution)

I was also a wee bit cranky. I missed my family terribly. I white-knuckled pulling the trailer, though I am quite happy I had it. My camp was too big. I got lost my first night and ended up just pulling off to the side of the road and staying the night there. We found our group the next day and all was well, but I was still stressed.

The electricity stopped working on Day 3 (I think it was. A lot of the week just runs together because there wasn’t a schedule to keep). The water, too. We worked fine with bowls and the solar shower and bottles of water. Nice people donated theirs to us when they left early. But I spent a lot more time trying to fix things than I should have bothered with.

My ankle hurt (which was going around) and a couple of migraines and a new medic alert bracelet let me know I wasn’t really all that far from real life.

Burning Man is definitely a place where youth looks like currency. And this year I felt particularly old – when I was by myself. Probably because of the gaggle of very nice, very beautiful, very scantily clad girls camping outside my window (literally right outside my window – their tent was anchored to my trailer). But when I was out with my friends – whether my age or not – I stopped noticing or caring. Basically, me left alone with my own brain can be bad, especially when I miss my boys.

There wasn’t nearly as much art (go figure in this economy). But what was there was stunning.

burning man art

burning man art

Just like last year, I didn’t see nearly as much of it as I wanted.

There was a very cool experience getting stranded in a white out with friends, where we couldn’t tell if we were walking into the depths of the desert or back toward the camps — sounds dire, but really, the whole place is surrounded by an orange plastic fence so it’s not like we would’ve walked off the edge of the earth. For once, I really concentrated on just experiencing what I knew was a novel experience, especially the moment when my nice group of women surrounded me and protected me because I was stupid enough to pick that night to not bother bringing my goggles or mask. But when the sand cleared, we saw we were actually only about five yards from the very brightly lit `camp/bar we were heading to. “Couches!” Funny, and a wonderful reminder of the power of the playa. Definitely on my top 9 list of experiences on the playa.

But what made the whole trip phenomenal for me was the temple burn. The temple is built every year — different design — the size of … well, a temple. Huge. It was sort of like Guggenheim had built a massive, decidedly feminine, structure out of 2x4s with the sky as his ceiling.

the temple

the temple

The temple is a place to leave things (old wedding dresses, letters to departed loved ones, hate mail for past abuses, photos, minutiae of every kind). You leave what you want to get out of your life. You say goodbye to that which has been taken. I just wrote some stuff on the walls with a Sharpie – big stuff, small display. Then on the last night of Burning Man they burn that sucker down. I missed it last year, but had heard it’s pretty profound. But profound was an understatement. Utterly life-changing. I’m still sort of processing that experience.

As the burn started, I was sort of unimpressed. It was still a party, just a quieter one than when they burn the man. There was entirely too much shhhh-ing. But then the flames rose and I could just start to feel the heat on my face.

Four of us held hands, and it felt like that was all that was keeping me from running away.

The wind kicked up and ash and embers came our way. I imagine other people ducked or covered their faces, but I couldn’t. Not by then. I just sat straight and gripped my friend’s hand and hoped the embers would ignite me and burn me to ash. Really, I thought that wouldn’t be a bad way to go. I was there to leave some heavy shit behind on the playa, and most of those things are pretty firmly anchored in my own head. My head is the playground of my monsters. I know that, thanks to a great therapist.

But I didn’t even get a burn hole in my sweatshirt. I could see the ash and embers coming right at me (thank you, goggles!), loose and laconic, like dry ice spreading in a haunted house. The heat was intense. But after a few minutes and realizing I wasn’t going to catch fire and disappear, that I was going to be leaving this playa with my own brain still in my own head, complete with its playground, my brain sort of rebooted. All I could think over and over was, “Burn, fuckers, burn!” and it was like electricity flowing all through my body (which, thanks to a guy letting people be a conduit for a joule of electricity on the playa, I know how that feels). It was like a really hostile meditation. I envisioned what I’d written on the walls of the temple, felt all the reasons I’d written on there and let my mantra meet the flames. Burn, fuckers, burn.

I tried really hard not to cry. I am not a cry-er. I thought I was going to get out of the experience with my shell intact as the temple began to crumble, signaling the end, but then my friend, who knew what I wrote and why, leaned over and whispered, “You are loved,” and I fell apart. I just started sobbing. I cannot remember ever sobbing before in my life. But I did. And she put her arm around me and held tight, and another friend walked over to me and stood like a guardian and I clung to her leg as if all this emotion might lift me away from this place I now so wanted to be, this place where the fuckers were burning and burning and burning. I ended up surrounded by three friends and one silent ranger who stood behind me so that the rushing crowd wouldn’t disturb us when the timbers folded in upon themselves and the party re-started.

When I finally got all my emotions back neatly in their boxes, got back to cracking a joke with a shaky voice, we walked back to camp, singing loudly, because at Burning Man you can do that.

Lean on Me.

Amazing Grace.

Now, back home a few weeks, back in my real life, where my monsters live and breathe as real people, I know I actually did leave those fuckers out there, burnt to gray ash on the white expanse of the Black Rock Desert. My brain is still a playground, and sometimes shadows block the sun, but now it’s a little more Kidsville and oranges. And that’s the real currency of Burning Man.

friends

friends

me

me

Jun
29

What’s with these kids these days? Where’s the pride, the attention to detail? Lady Gaga is the most recent offender, but the trend is bigger than her. Kirsten Stewart, Rihanna, even Pink (who is old enough to know better), to name a few, are committing this affront to (my) standards.

What’s with the wingless bird? Looks like a ham with a fork stuck in it. A closed fist with a finger sticking up is not a bird. A proper bird, preferably flipped with angry or bored aplomb, should have wings. It should have knuckles out, thumb cocked and parallel. It should have tension in the tendons. It should look as if it is ready to take flight.

In middle school, my friends and I spent every bus ride for a week (or more) with pencils laced through our fingers so we could perfect the bird. It was uncomfortable. It took practice. It looked ridiculous. But we were committed. None of us were going to get caught using our thumbs to hold our fingers down. That was for babies. We were big kids now, and we watched the high schoolers, local celebrities simply by benefit of age, for the proper form. Improper form was met with scalding scorn.

Of course, a good bird needed to look effortless. Getting caught practicing was almost as bad as the ham-fisted fake bird. So we slumped in our bus seats as near the back row as we could get, the tall scarred metal seatbacks hiding our penciled fingers. A properly placed Trapper Keeper blocked our practice from nosy neighbors – not that anyone was looking; we were all doing the same thing and pretending not to notice. We were all trying to seem older and fit in and find acceptance with the right group. We were social scientists looking for every detail of coolness, every badge we could acquire, every piece of armor against invisibility.

We wore our Dove shorts, our Ditto jeans, our polo shirts with appliqués that screamed our financial status more loudly than the swoop of our Nikes. We leaned with aggressive nonchalance and scanned every other kid around us from behind our Wayfarers. We were masters of observation, instantly noticing if de rigueur white tennis shoe had stripes or a slightly off swoop or, worse, nothing at all. We could tell Ray Bans from Fake Bans. We sneered at a limp collar or loose jeans. All of this as a pre-emptive strike against anyone who might notice our own missteps in style or status.

And if they did? If anyone did call us out on fake Candies shoes or knockoff Levis? Easy. Flip ‘em the bird. A proper, cocked-thumb, winged bird.

May
13

I’m not quite a young mother. I was 34 when I had Joe. And until my husband and I decided we wanted one, I didn’t pay much attention to children. I did, however, have a lot of opinions about other people’s parenting. So when I got pregnant, I knew all the things I wasn’t going to do.

  1. I was never going to lie to my child (and that included Santa, the Easter Bunny, and politics).
  2. I wasn’t going to let my child watch television for more than two hours a day.
  3. I wasn’t going to change my life to revolve around my child’s and thereby stagnate my own growth.
  4. I wasn’t going to have a child so insecure that he or she would have piercings on their face, blue hair, or any other ridiculous cry for attention.
  5. My child was going to be a reader! Preferably at birth.
  6. I was not going to let my child watch violence but then get all bothered by sex during those two hours of television a day.
  7. Becoming a parent would not be an excuse to wear sweats all day or leave the house in my pajamas.
  8. My child would not enjoy bodily function humor.
  9. I would not shelter my child from the reality of death, especially the death of pets.

OK, everyone, stop laughing!

Some of these went out the window the day my son came home from the hospital. (Hell, at least one of these got kicked to the curb during pregnancy.) Others made it for a few years. But that last one held fast until this week.

We’ve had pets die during Joe’s lifetime. We had a slew of very old pets when he was born. Those pets lived to be very very old and died right during those early formative years. We’ve had to bury, flush, or spread ashes for three dogs, one cat, a bunch of fish, and various worms, lady bugs, and roly polies. Every one of these pets got a funeral of some sort. We cried over dogs, mourned cats, and said solemn words above the toilet bowl for fish.

But I never lied. I never hid a corpse or attempted a sneak replacement. Not until last week. And last week I did both.

In my defense, I still wasn’t trying to protect my son from death. That ship has been lit on fire and sent to sea. No, my motivations are, well, murkier.

It all started with Nic. Nic is in Joe’s third-grade class. He’s a nice kid, smart, a little shy, a little sly, but maybe most importantly, tiny. I hate to admit this last part is important to me, but it is. Joe is tiny. He’s 9, but the size of a 6-year-old. I’m tiny, the size of a 16-year-old. That’s all well and good for a girl, but ask any of my guy friends and they’ll tell you it sucks to be a tiny male. (OK, this stuff about tininess, that’s probably grist for another mill. For now, let’s just say I like the idea of Joe not feeling quite so alone with being small.)

Nic has come over to our house a few times, but two weeks ago he came to spend the night. Ah, the friendship was getting serious. At last. Nic was the first boy from Joe’s class to come for a sleepover. Joe has a gaggle of cousins his age, and most weekends we have one, two – or five – at our house. It was about time he broke out past those familiar walls.

As they were playing in the backyard, the two decided they wanted to clean out the mucky pool that has been collecting snowfall and rain and leaves and dirt all winter. I think they figured if they cleaned it out, we could fill it and they could swim. This plan did not take into account the fact that the dog had been jumping into it and puncturing the bottom or the fact that snow was still a daily threat or the fact that filling it with the hose meant water cold enough to shrivel apples let alone little boy parts. But if they wanted to clean the pool who was I to stop them?

And of course they found a frog.

And of course they wanted to keep it.

And of course I said yes. Because this could cement their friendship! They could share custody and exchange the frog each week, taking turns caring for it and bonding over the shared responsibility. I immediately called Nic’s mom and got the OK. She seemed as enthusiastic as I was. She had an old terrarium I picked up and made ready for Jumpy Junior. We bought frog food and a fake log he could hide under. We made a water hole from a little honey jar I’d palmed from a restaurant. It was froggy paradise.

But that night Jason found one of the cats chasing Jumpy Junior across the living room floor. He put JJ back in the cage. I taped up the area around the light bulb with electrical tape.

The next day was the day I volunteer in Joe’s class. The boys asked if I would bring JJ. I asked permission of the teacher, got the official okey-dokey and brought the terrarium in. The kids were excited and asked questions. The boys basked in telling how they caught Jumpy Junior and how they named him and how they were going to share him. They kids in the class took turns trying to find JJ. I helped them look and explained that he was probably hiding under his log because he was scared. But as the morning wore on, I began to suspect that Jumpy Junior wasn’t simply hiding.

When I got home, while Joe was still in school, I peeked in the terrarium from every angle. JJ was a very good hider. Finally, I emptied it. First the log, then the leaves, then the honey-pot water hole. No Jumpy Junior. How could I tell Joe the frog was gone? How could he and Nic bond over a missing frog?

I put everything back and went outside and looked for another frog. No luck. I grew up catching lizards. I had no frog experience. I called Jason and told him about the missing JJ and asked him to find a replacement when he got home. (To his credit, he didn’t ask about my previous highly held convictions.) Then I staked out a place near the window and listened. I didn’t hear a croak until after Joe got home. By then there was no graceful way to ditch him to go outside and find a frog.

When Jason got home, I distracted Joe, and Jason swiftly caught the loud frog I’d heard. He deftly slipped him in the cage. When the frog started to croak, Jason and I joked about how Jumpy must finally be comfortable enough with us to talk. “He’s like a whole new frog,” Jason said, and he and I laughed.

But come morning, replacement JJ was gone. The terrarium was proving less than frog-proof. But I figured there was still no problem. First I figured we could find him in the house. But Lynn (our roommate) found his body as soon as Joe and I left for school. So I figured I would just find a replacement while Joe was gone. After all, I still had another day until the custody exchange. And we always have a ton of frogs in our yard this time of year.

But we also have the most unpredictable weather in the country. And it got cold that day. Cold enough that there was no croaking. I searched the yard. No frogs. Not even a croak. Jason searched. Nothing. When Joe asked about JJ, I relied on the tried and true, “He must be hiding under his log.”

The next day, I went out early and checked the pet stores. Lots of bright yellow or red exotic frogs and toads, but no plain green and brown Jumpy Juniors. The weather was a little warmer; maybe I could find a frog at the park. I had Jason feed Joe a line about me forgetting to get Jumpy ready to take to school and that I’d bring him for Nic when I came to pick up Joe. That gave me 6 hours to find a new Jumpy Junior.

I searched the yard again. Nothing but spiders and worms. I staked out the park. I walked around the pond at the park, followed the little creek, even managed to walk into a swarm of lethargic bees and do the prissy skip-dance through ankle-deep mud to get away (I hope there was at least someone around to see that, because, really, that kind of comedy should not be wasted.) I startled a couple of toads roughly the size of my head and one garter snake not much bigger than a worm, but no cute little frogs. I had to accept that the frog bond I had worked so hard to forge and fake between Nic and Joe was about to be rent asunder.

I couldn’t help thinking that if I were a TV mom I’d have found the frog and gotten it into the cage at the last minute with a great one-liner and a laugh-track complete with a few Aws. I felt vaguely disappointed. And not so vaguely pissed. I’d put a lot of effort into this. And I’m not the effort type. I was pretty sure Nic’s mom would’ve been able to find a frog. Or Mason’s. Or Jacob’s, Preston’s, Hawkeye’s, Mitchell’s, Ferdi’s, David’s. I was sure that this was a profound failing. A glaring damnation of my mothering abilities. A confirmation of the suspicions I was sure all the other mothers harbored about me. And I was sure Joe would never forgive me. When he was caught with a rifle in a bell tower in his later years, this day would be the subject of his rantings.

I wanted to call Jason and have him pick up Joe but this was my walk of shame.

I stood outside room 22 and waited for the bell to ring, hoping at least Nic would forget and just run on by. But, no, both he and Joe made a beeline toward me. “Where’s Jumpy Junior?!” Joe asked immediately.

No use bothering anymore. “He escaped. I’m sorry; he must’ve gotten out through –”
“I knew he was smart. I told you,” Nic said.

“Yeah, I bet he planned it!” Joe said, sounding proud.

“Ninja frog!” Nic yelled and put his hands up in the universal karate sign.

They ran ahead of me toward the edge of the playground, where cars and parents waited. They shoved each other and talked excitedly.

“Can Nic spend the night?” Joe yelled back at me.

“Sure,” I said, rushing to catch up. Kids darted around me, fast and happy like a swarm with its own hive mind. “Let’s go ask Nic’s mom.” But they were already rushing to where Krystal waited in the warmth of her car.

“Yeah!” Nic told Joe, “Maybe we can catch another frog!”

Joe and Nic

Joe and Nic

UPDATE: As of today (6-24-10), the third Jumpy Junior (found a few days after this post) is still alive. Anyone who has captured some tiny creature in their yard and locked it up in a tiny cracked plastic terrarium held together by duct tape can appreciate the marvel of this. We decided that any toad with such a will to live deserves to go out and breed. So, with Nic’s permission, Jason, Joe and I released JJ back into the wild. Well, technically, Joe threw him into the tall grass at the park and then told us all the stories JJ was telling to explain his absence to his friends.

Category: 9, Parenting, Stories  Tags: , ,  6 Comments
Cindie Geddes

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