Angel of the Tool-Shed

I work in a vast Tool-Shed.  There are endless, yawning hallways, and I spend a significant amount of time walking those hallways in search of approvals (by that I mean signatures … concurrences … not as desperate as it sounds, but I’m leaving that for now).

There is the “crazy lady who talks to herself”.  That’s how most people refer to her.  I am convinced she’s an angel, though.  She walks, and speaks in full voice, not making eye contact; not noticing the people walking by, trying not to notice her.

One day, I was convinced that she was an actual conduit for the voice of God, as she walked towards me saying, “You’re fat!  You need to lose weight!  When are you going to go on a diet?!  You need to lose weight!”   I was a little stunned because I had been thinking the same thing.  Now, it seemed, even God agreed and he was using this awkward little angel to give me the news.

In hindsight, I expect that wasn’t the voice of God.  I like to think that if God had a 10 second time/space continuum to give me a message, he would focus on something other than my weight.  So, I am left wondering where my angel gets her material.

Then it dawned on me.  She typically doesn’t speak in messages, her dialog sounds more broken and personal, like the thoughts that run through all of our heads.  For instance, if I were to actually voice my thoughts right now, it would sound like, “crap. Headache. Angel in the halls. Fan spinning.  Guys working on the roof.  What a beautiful day.  My voice, finally.”   That is more like what my angel sounds like.  She jumps and rants, just like we all do, but she voices the thoughts in her head.  I don’t know if she can control this or not; I expect not.

I am more impressed with her than ever.  I have never really heard her say anything bad.  Seriously!  How many of us could keep our jobs (any relationships!) if the thoughts in our head just spilled out our mouths??  Consider the implications!  That is why I think she is an angel.  Her whole mind seems to be there for public dissection, and while it may be disgruntled and messy, it seems innocent, naïve and beautiful in its vulnerability.

I actually had the urge to yell, “NICE MULLET” to a lady as I passed her one day in the hallway.  I have also walked past flocks of precisely dressed workers waiting for important people and wanted to snidely say, “what a bunch of #^&*&#  Tools ” (hence my pet name for the place where I work).  I desperately want to leave a post-it note on a portrait that says, “looks like Harrison Ford!”  Sometimes I want to sing (and dance) to the songs playing in my head.  With all this going on in my head, it’s a wonder I can walk straight.  Actually, I’m not positive that I always do.  The point being, I am so glad I can keep the thought in my head private most of the time.  If I couldn’t, I would surely be alone and out of a job.

I am a lesser creature than the angel of the Tool-Shed.  She has walked those corridors for years, unfiltered and unassuming.  Her most private thoughts are public knowledge, and miraculously, she remains.  There is something achingly pure about that.

I think God has shown her to me for a reason.  I can be a bit stubborn about MY thoughts being MY thoughts!  Most of the time I like their bawdy, silly, insulting, observations.  They amuse me.  The Angel is a reminder to me that perhaps my thoughts aren’t as private as I like to believe.  For all I know they could be broadcast in some horrible dimension of Hell where tormented souls are shielding their ears screaming, “what a bitch!”

Last night, I read Thomas Kelly for probably the trillionth time.  The context is the complexity and over-crowdedness of our lives –

“We’re weary and breathless.  And we know and regret that our life is slipping away, with our having tasted so little of the peace and joy and serenity we are persuaded it should yield to a soul of wide caliber.  The times for the deep silences of the heart seem so few.  And in guilty regret we must postpone till next week the deeper life of unshaken composure in the holy Presence, where we sincerely know our true home is, for this week is much too full.”

Bam!  Need I say more?  I have heard the Angel of the Tool-Shed and I have heard the elegant Thomas Kelly.  They both seem to be saying the same thing.  MY thoughts are not necessarily MY thoughts, and MY life is tied intimately to MY thoughts.  Even if they aren’t broadcast in Hell, they are shared with God.  I don’t want God to shield his ears and say, “what a bitch!”  As Kelly says (on the front end of the book), “Eternity is at our hearts, pressing upon our time-torn lives, warming us with intimations of an astounding destiny, calling us home unto Itself.”  I have no idea what the Angel is saying right now, but I know one thing … it’s absolutely from her head/heart and it wouldn’t hurt a fly.  I don’t want to hurt a fly either.  I want to open my life up to the astounding power of Eternity.  I want to bathe daily in the light, love and laughter of my Father.  To pull Eternity into Now and let it reside.  If you wish, please join me in prayer.

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Me; Awesome, 49 and Happy

I’m sitting here in a homemade party hat that says, “I’m ALIVE!” on one side and “Weeeeeeeee!” on the other. There are wonderful designs depicting sun, purple clouds, smiley face … I am 49 today. We have been snowed in for a week as of tomorrow. Weeeeeeeeeeee. I have punched holes in the hat and tied string around my chin to keep it on. I don’t want to forget that I’m supposed to be happy today.
Husband is grumpy because apparently it is next to impossible for a man to be cooped up with 3 awesome, happy women for a week and be grateful. He shoveled out our driveway and sidewalk; the driveway and sidewalk of 2 or 3 widows; the driveway and sidewalk of 2 women whose husbands were gone for the 29” snow; and a car sized path out of the cul-de-sac for a woman who was due to deliver her 1st baby 2 days ago. That is a Herculean effort. To be fair, he had help from Bob (who actually invested in and picked up a snow blower the day before the storm … genius), Jason (husband of the very pregnant woman who only helped with HIS needs) and a car load of Koreans who had family at the end of the cul-de-sac. I digress … the point is that husband is suffering ANY consequence to steer clear of we 3 awesome, happy women. I’m not guessing at this; he has said it several times, but without the “awesome, happy” part. Today found him moving cars around, and chipping away at ice so the sun could melt what little remains on our driveway, leaving the cement as bare and dry as a July day. We three awesome, happy women peered at him through the frosted window and decided that he is definitely OCD. Then I had a slice of birthday pie and considered the fact that my mere existence has propelled a perfectly good man out into the snow for days on end. Ah, me. Yet, I’m happy (see hat). Here is my “why I’m happy list” –
1. God
2. I’m alive (and I have the hat to prove it)
3. I am still (just barely) in my 40’s
4. No power outage
5. There is pie in the refrigerator
6. Haven’t had to go to work all week
7. Monday is a holiday … thank you presidents
8. There is pie in the refrigerator
9. I’m dreaming of a future away from N.VA
10. More dreaming … home improvement projects
11. The sun is out
12. There is pie in the refrigerator
13. I have 2 awesome, happy women to share being shut in with
14. I can honestly say I love my neighbor (not in a “we are the world” sense, her name is Kathy and I really love her because she is awesome and happy too) PLUS she has a wood burning fireplace!
15. The pets are entertaining (props to Trip, Lola, Gary and Beezer)
16. Did I mention there is pie in the refrigerator and that I have a party hat?
Seriously … life is good and I am humbled and grateful for my place in the world. Anyone else out there have a “why I’m happy” list they’d like to share? If you have been snowed in for a week, I highly suggest you force yourself to make one. Maybe you aren’t lucky enough to have an awesome homemade party hat, but if you try hard, you probably still have the invisible ‘thinking cap’ you had in elementary school. Put it on. Think. Be happy.

Ode to People I Barely Knew

Some of my most inspired characters are people I barely knew.  Like John K.  I guess he was the antithesis of me.  I was youth, he was age.  I was nimble; he was cast in his own oversized frame.  I floated, he was anchored.  I had everything figured out; he was wise to his folly.  I knew the bible verses I was taught, he knew the ones they didn’t and STILL had faith.  Air flowed through my lungs without thought or appreciation, and for John air seemed to be consciously pulled in, circulated and expelled with every labored breath.  I haven’t written much yet, but when I do, John’s character is always knocking wanting to get into every story.  He is rich, weighty, and the fact that I knew him even lightly is a huge gift.

Then there’s Rosemary M.  I knew her even less than John.  To this day, when I see purple clothing or hats, I think, “Rosemary! (smiley face)”.  She probably would have preferred the name Violate.  She was the mother of someone much older than me, so to me, she was ANCIENT.  Somehow, she is still alive, so quick math estimation tells me she couldn’t have been nearly as ancient in the 70’s as I thought she was.  I don’t think I ever said a word to her.  I wish I had, because I know now (through Christmas letters my mother receives) that she has a wonderfully mordant sense of humor.  My favorite quote, when someone asked her how she was doing she replied, “I am deteriorating and so is my house”.  All true, I’m sure, but how many people answer an insincere question with such authenticity?  I am confident she has no recollection of me whatsoever, but shards of her will live on in my storytelling for (hopefully) decades to come.

I have to mention Brother.  He wiggled his way into a short story I wrote, and I barely knew him.  When he came knocking I let him in, but wished I had known him better.  I remember his face.  The quintessential face that comes to mind when I have to write of a happy, rural bachelor that never had 2 dimes to rub together.  BUT he always had candy in his pockets for my friend and me (not creepy, he was a good and trusted friend of her family).  He had snaggleteeth, and liked to show them off.  He wore a lot of flannel, and never looked overly clean.  I guess he was funny, because I remember a lot of laughter being around him, but I don’t remember single thing he ever said.   I don’t even know what his name was; we just called him Brother.

On one level or another, I have used all three of these characters in stories.  I wonder if the fact that I barely know them helps me to use them.  Maybe if I knew them better, I would be paralyzed by reality; thinking, “Oh, Brother wouldn’t say that.”  As it is, his memory is just mute enough that he adapts to any storyline or even personality.  Hmmmmm … I’d love to explore this idea of where our characters come from … I really don’t believe writers come up with anything on their own; they just pay attention to their surroundings and memory a little more than most.  Like professional sponges, they assimilate their surroundings and release them again in another form.  Wikipedia just told me that sponges emit waste; so I’ll need to think of a metaphor that feels better to my ego.   Although, maybe there is a little amoeba or protozoa that gets fat and happy on sponge waste somewhere in the big sea.   I’ll spew out all the literary waste I can if there literary protozoan that enjoy the buffet (another smiley face).

Hey readers few, anyone want to share a little sketch of one of their favorite real life characters?

Kitchen Exchange – A Fiction (mostly)

We spoke of dinner plans as I leafed through old photographs, “Where’s that recipe I gave you?  The one for Napa Oriental Salad?  We could have that for dinner.”

Jane’s face instantly sank into serious contemplation.  She was thinking, “Where did I put that recipe?” Clearly, she had never actually made it.

She said, “Yeah, that was so good, it’s probably here.”  She reached above her stove, opened up the cupboard and produced a little box stuffed with what needs to be handy.  These are the ‘A’ list recipes.  Holiday favorites like, Cranberry Orange Nut Bread, Peanut Butter Fudge; anything that she has tasted and enjoyed over the past year or so.  The little wood box is overflowing with memories of wonderful meals shared and the promise of more to come.  15 min of searching through 3 x 5 cards and scraps of paper delivered the somber news that my Napa Salad didn’t make the ‘A’ list.

“Oh,” clearly a little embarrassed, “that box is too full, the overflow is over here,” she said heading to the hutch.  She opened a drawer housing scissors, 2 screwdrivers, hammer, nails, toothpicks that look like tiny swords, a candle snuffer, 3 x 5 cards, pens, forgotten grocery lists, handwritten recipes on notebook paper; on and on it went to the dark recesses in the back of the drawer.  This is the ‘B’ list.

I was a little taken aback.  Overflow? She ate the salad at my home, she liked the salad, I wrote the recipe out for her, and now it was stuffed in the ‘B’ list drawer?  I put down the photo album and took off my reading glasses.  Any minute now, she would produce the recipe.  She would raise a well worn, appropriately stained, greatly loved, From My Kitchen to Yours card and proclaim, “Here it is!”

Jane’s face was calm, concentrated, and determined.   Bent over the drawer, she sifted and hummed to the radio.  She didn’t find the recipe, but she did find a Christmas card from a mutual friend that she had saved for me to read, saying, “ah ha!”

“You found it?” I asked.

“No, but read this card from Gracie, it’s hilarious.”

Closing the drawer, Jane then did the unthinkable.  She stepped back, crouched down and opened the bottom cupboard of the hutch.  Gently placing a row of cut wine glasses on the floor next to her and reaching behind a row of dessert plates, she hauled out a culinary artifact.  With a strained, guttural sound, she produced Betty Crocker’s Cookbook, given to her 35 years ago upon her graduation from High School.  Again; stuffed with bits of paper, 3 x 5’s, even a pressed rose from Prom, forgotten and bulging at the seams.  This, clearly, is the ‘C thru Z’ list.

“Are you freakin’ kidding me?” I asked, throwing Gracie’s Christmas card at her.

Jane’s defense; “What?”

“Why do you even have those recipes?  You can’t possibly use them, stuffed all the way back there.”

“Oh no;  never,” she said, slowly rubbing her palm over the cover.  “These recipes have sentimental value, but I never actually use them.  Most of them have too many steps, or weird ingredients, or are just out dated … no one uses lard anymore.”

“Pity,” I said.  I got up and stood over her stooped frame.  I put on my reading glasses and watched as she flipped through the loose recipes.  Meatball Vegetable Soup, Rum Raisin Bread, Canadian Goose Chutney, Cranberry Duck, Brown Bread, Honey Cakes …

“Look, this one was from my Aunt Eleanor,” she said as she gently lifted a yellowed stained, and handwritten Lobster Stew recipe.  “She used to make it every Christmas Eve.  God, it’s delicious.  You just don’t know.”

Her hands moved unhurried through the memories of family long gone, the meals they shared, and the women who never had the luxury to balk at too many steps or weird ingredients.  She smiled and held up a recipe for Red Velvet Cake. “My piano teacher gave this to everyone she knew because some chef charged her $100 for the recipe.  She wanted to get her money’s worth.”

I suddenly found myself hoping my recipe WAS stuffed in this old book.

Jane took her reading glasses off and brushed her curls from her face.  Betty Croker lay heavy in her lap.  “I probably stuck it in a pocket and washed the jeans,” she said.  “I’m sorry.  You know me.  I really did like the salad.”

“No big deal,” I said, realizing that honest to God, it was no big deal.  “So, what should we make for dinner?”

“Don’t know,” said Jane grabbing 2 of the wine glasses and heading for the refrigerator, “but we can think about it over some Chardonnay and cheddar cheese”.

Dinner ended up to be a bottle of wine and about a pound of cheese poised on toothpicks that look like little swords.  We resurrected the tomb of Betty Crocker and ate on the floor, surrounded by all her  secret ephemera.

Late in the evening, Jane left the room and came back with a delicate picture frame with holly leaves and berries around the boarder.  “Secret Santa from the office, who knew I’d actually use it?!”  She sifted through the recipes until she found Lobster Stew.

“What d’ya think?” she said, holding the newly honored recipe towards me.

“I love it,” I said.

She opened the drawer and hammered a little nail on the wall over her sink.  Hanging the recipe over the sink, her reflection ghosted back at her.

“I’m glad you lost my recipe,” I said.  “Otherwise, we never would have found this one.”

“True,” she said.  “Got any plans for Christmas Eve?”

In the Beginning

After a few years of thinking about it, I decided to dip my toe into the world of blogging.  A bit narcissistic, maybe.  My expectations of myself are HIGH, which is probably why I’ve kept away from the starting gate for so long.  I expect it to be readable.  At this point, that seems like a very lofty goal.

The other big issue is what to write about?  Do I write chapters that will eventually come together to make some great story?  Short stories, thoughts?, prayers?, essays?, do I scream, do I vent, do I council?  My shoulders just literally shrugged.  We’ll see.

One thing I know for sure.  This won’t last if there isn’t feedback and an exchange of ideas.  I will bore myself very quickly.  The first several postings will be stuff I’ve already written.  There is safety in that.

— Bonnie