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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?!

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
Apr
22

Nevada is 87 percent public lands. That means the federal government owns the deed on most of my state. And since they could, they leased big chunks of it to anyone who wanted to dig it up for about 140 bucks. They called these chunks mining claims, and they still go for less than an RV space. If you have a claim, you have to maintain it (dig holes in it) and follow some other rules. But what it boils down to is this: the government doesn’t appreciate sagebrush and dirt.

Nevada was granted statehood because the Union needed our silver and gold in the Civil War. Everyone wanted our silver and gold. Everyone wants our silver and gold. Some things don’t change. But not every hole dug turned up precious metals. That’s why folks had to buy a bunch of claims and get fancy equipment and professionals and maps and computers. Or just get a dousing wand like one of our state’s successful miners.

What happened to the holes that didn’t strike gold is this: they stayed holes. Until about a decade or two ago there was no requirement to fill in the holes you dug if you didn’t want to. No matter how big the holes were. So, go figure, my state is filled with holes. Technically, they are mine shafts and adits. Shafts go down, adits go in. The way the holes were kept open is by framing the dirt with timber. Just about every forest in the state was reduced to stubble to meet the requirements of hundreds of miles of underground mining. There is no old-growth forest in Nevada.

The timber used to frame the tunnels was treated with tar. Components of that tar are carcinogenic – they give you cancer. But only technically. Technically, so long as you don’t burn the timber and inhale the tar you won’t get cancer. Technically, so long as you don’t absorb that tar through your skin you won’t get cancer. It’s the same tar they used to treat railroad ties. It’s the same tar they still use on all those decorative railroad ties folks use for landscaping their suburban yards.

Problem was, the mines caught fire. All that tar-soaked timber went up like so many charcoal briquettes. But if you were a miner, fire wasn’t your only worry. You had to worry about being scalded by underground steam pockets, suffocating, poisoning by gas leaks, being crushed by collapsing tunnels or having your partner hammer a steel pike through your head because you were working in near-complete darkness in a space about as wide as a shower stall and half as tall. As many as one in five miners died within six months of joining the rush for gold. When you die before you’re old enough to have a midlife crisis, you don’t worry so much about cancer.

Once the mines were worked clean, once there was no more gold or silver or barite or copper or lead or zinc or manganese or tungsten or lithium or diatomite to make it cost-effective to keep digging holes, once that happened, the mine owners just closed up shop and moved on, taking the miners and the economy with them. What they left behind was crumbling mine shafts and adits, a couple of “caution” and “beware” signs, some barbed wire and a lot of dead and dying towns. The ones constructed of wood are called ghost towns, and tourists take pictures and accidentally burn them down with discarded cigarettes. The others are primarily made up of listing trailers with broken windows, and empty schools. They are called the rest of Nevada except Reno and Las Vegas. These are the parts of the state with legalized prostitution. Legalized prostitution, rattlesnakes and big gaping and crumbling holes in the ground. All in all, a great environment to be a kid (that is not sarcasm; it rocked to be a kid in rural Nevada – no pun intended).

Even in the sort of trailer-park suburb of Reno that was Sun Valley, even here there lurked abandoned shafts and adits. Every kid over the age of about six knew where to find them. We hiked on out to the best ones – the ones off Seventh Street — carrying our frayed ropes, temperamental flashlights and extra water.

The holes off Seventh were mostly shafts – they went down. Barbed wire drew us in, rebar stakes with bullet-riddled warning signs told us there was something good to be found. Dirt long grown to brush mounded around the edges like a scabbed but open wound. You didn’t want to stand too close to the edge for fear of the rocks and dirt and brush sliding toward center and taking you with them. Every family had gleeful gruesome warning tales of kids falling into abandoned mine shafts never to be heard from again. That’s why we brought rope. If you fell in, you could get pulled out. If the whole shebang collapsed, the search and rescue guys could follow the rope through the tons of rock to your dirt-covered body.

The best time to go shaft-spelunking was right around noon, when the heat made it feel so good to descend into the darkness and when the sunlight pierced as deeply as possible. Seventh Street was only about a five-minute bike ride from where my family lived and another ten took us along the old access road to the mines. Just beyond the mines were The Pits where people shot bottles and targets, watermelons and a whole lot of dirt. The bottles were always beer bottles. Bring your own.

On the other side of The Pits, stood the Castle. In my memory it is stone and iron with turrets and a widow’s walk. But I think I’m confusing it with Stokes Castle in Austin (Nevada. I didn’t know there was one in Texas until near-adulthood). The Castle in the Sun Valley (Nevada. Didn’t know about the one in Idaho either. My grasp of geography has always been sketchy) desert is actually two floors of corrugated tin and plywood. Graffiti, used condoms, dead wine bottles, a needle or two – layers of delinquency. When my brother- and sister-in-law bought a brand new track house about half a mile from there I went and checked.

The Pits are right off the main road now, a holding area of gravel and those big decorative boulders people use for landscaping. Tractors, backhoes and big yellow dump trucks park haphazardly. A huge U has been gouged from the side of the hill, obliterating all those spent shells and broken bottles. I like to imagine them mixed in with the gravel used as a poor excuse for xeriscaping in the public areas of that housing development.

Back then, it seemed all we had to do was walk out into the desert, and we’d flat-out stumble upon abandoned mines, rattlesnakes, blasting caps. Blasting caps were currency. Fireworks for the mining set. Most of us in the valley knew blasting caps by sight. Hardly any of us were from the valley. We’d all done our early years in other podunk, low-rent trailer towns, all knew about changing schools when the mines busted, knew about airplane glue and brush fires, knew about black eyes, knew AA was for pussies.

But when I went back, I couldn’t find the old adits. I’m sure they’re still there, but I’ve lost that kid radar for dangerous places.

The Js at an adit at Berlin, Nevada

The Js at an adit at Berlin, Nevada

Stokes Castle, Austin, Nevada

Stokes Castle, Austin, Nevada

Category: Stories  Tags: ,  3 Comments
Cindie Geddes

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