Fiction Friday: Novelines from the Book

At the age of 18, I was finally getting my driver’s license, when I had been content to tag along with David wherever he went.

Food Storage Inventory Exchange was like a cookie exchange, except instead of swapping cake balls for brownie bites, it was rice for beans.

I knew God didn’t care whether I could cook, bake, or sew, for He had given us each different talents, but in the Church, the fluidity of gender roles had frozen in retro time.

I’d accepted Mother just the way she was, even as she had accepted that though I loved her very much, I loved David more.

I’d been given the gift of the Holy Ghost at baptism, but perhaps I hadn’t been worthy enough to unwrap it.

Had I a testimony, my heart would’ve been closed to Elder Roberts, & my heart would’ve been opened for another.

My mother’s home style was minimalist, her color, monochrome. It wasn’t till the Mormons came that our lives were infused with vintage color & became a sort of Pleasantville.

Leann & I worked on our sugar cube temple for Relief Society Enrichment Meeting, & I thought how much the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth resembled a glistening piece of Candyland.  A gingerbread house, without the warmth or frills.

Our fridge had never been cluttered with magnets holding up candid pictures or childish artwork or the hundreds of little notes that tiled Leann’s fridge.

Makeup on Empty Space: Poetry Reading Night

“Poetry can be a transmission to help you notice things.”
–Anne Waldman, 22 April 2017, Pensacola State College, at The Lyceum

Last night, I attended a poetry reading by poet, Anne Waldman, whose workshop I attended Friday.  I don’t write about these things so much to report, but rather to highlight the impact the event had on me.

anne.jpg

Anne’s son, Ambrose Bye, played the piano, which added to the ambiance, and behind them, flashed images of what she called a “family album”, or “honorary album”–pictures of poets, brain diagrams (which the medical student in me appreciated), indigenous peoples, nature (and perhaps environmental devastation–I’m not sure), so one could say that Anne had the three “poeias” down (words, music, images). 

One of the lines that captured me was “her century needed her to see above the height of the grass” which conjured up images of antitheses to anti-Christs (the latter who may always come in the form of a man).

Her poetry was written (and performed, rather than recited) in a woman’s spirit.  It wasn’t even her words so much that moved me, but the musicality of her words.  At heart, I am a storyteller; I like characters, and so many of my poems read like stories, so I saw, or rather heard, the expression of poetry in a new way.

The only thing that wasn’t for me were the chants, because it reminded me of speaking in tongues (except hers weren’t creepy).

She opened with singing the “Anthropocene Blues,” which sounded like an old-time religion church hymn.  (Btw, anthropocene is the name for the geological time we’re living in, where mankind has a significant impact on the environment.)

She also spoke on the theme of “archive,” which she defined as “an antithesis to a war on memory.”  We are living in a technological age where our words will be out there forever, which makes me very happy as a writer, but probably wouldn’t if I were a politician.  Politicians often wage a “war on memory” by trying to con their constituents/employers, saying they never said (insert inflammatory statement) if they did, as there is usually video to back it up.

Her poem on suffering was recited in a way that made me think of bullets being shot or bombs being dropped in rapid succession.  No, we don’t want to be seen as the age when people were killing each other or destroying the planet, though every age since the beginning of time can claim the mantle of the former.  We just have the power now to execute the latter.

One of Anne’s refrains was “pushing against the darkness”; I think of poetry as a way of illuminating the world.  It is the color where there is only black-and-white.  (The movie Pleasantville comes to mind.)

She recited what she called a “feminist love poem” about the g-spot (reminiscent of an apostrophe poem), which she described as a “genie trapped in a bottle.”

I concur.

I learned that the manatee is related to the elephant, and what human doesn’t love a herbivorous animal and one that won’t kill you for the hell of it?  She made a good point about man having no use for the manatee, which I took as an allegory for how humans judge one another’s worth–by their perceived usefulness or productivity (even to them).

Because racehorses have use for man, men breed them.

There was a question-and-answer session at the end, and, as Jamey Jones, the local Poet Laureate put it, “Anne really cares.”  She believes in her work, and that poets can change the world.

I will say that it already has, for is not the Bible a book of poetry?  Does that mean something has to be packaged as religion, or absolute truth, to change the world?

Something to think about.

Creative Writing Prompt: Polar Bears in the Desert…

Or, in other words, write a story about someone who is at odds with their environment.  Some examples are a minister in a political race (okay, maybe not so much), a domestic goddess who switches places with a CEO (that one could really be fun), a Millennial hipster stuck in the sixties, to name a few. 

Living in the South, having to deal with Yankees who make a deal about my “yes sir” and “no ma’am-ing”, was the inspiration for this farcical piece.

pier-440339_960_720

When Melissa Met the South

Melissa Caldwell blotted her temple with a handkerchief. It was so undignified to sweat, or perspire, as her aunt Addie would say.  Her aunt Addie believed every word had a gender—men sweated, women perspired, men tailored, women sewed, men were chefs, women were cooks.  She even still used the terms male nurse and lady doctor.

It had been more than twenty years since she had seen her father’s aunt. Even though she’d been five the last time she had been in Pensacola, Florida, she hadn’t remembered it being this hot.  The humidity made her feel as if she were walking through a steam room.  She stopped at a café to get a cup of coffee—iced, that is—then realized she was a couple of eggs short of hangry.

“Would you like grits with that?” the server, whose nametag read Mandy Claire, said.

“What are those?” Melissa asked, and this little pissant waitress had the nerve to look at her like she was stupid. Well, at least she wasn’t a waitress; she had gotten an education.

“Okay, never mind,” she said with a wave of her hand and a roll of her eyes. “Do you have anything gluten-free?”

“Gluten-free?” Again, the look.

Melissa blew up her imaginary bangs in exasperation. “You know what?  Just bring me an iced coffee to start.”  Mandy started to walk away, but Melissa called out.  “Oh, by the way, do you know where a good Jewish deli is around here?”

“Publix has a really good deli,” Mandy said, then scurried off before Melissa could ask what in the hell was a Publix.

Melissa took that as an opportunity to fish her cell phone out of her Prada bag and call her best friend, Marisol Fernandez.  Melissa spoke Spanish fluently, so she chose to be respectful of her friend’s culture by speaking in her language, garnering a few glares from nearby booths.  She loved the privacy of being able to speak in code, but she could’ve sworn had she been speaking English, she would’ve been ignored, so she transitioned.  Funny, how they were all about “speaking the language”, yet they couldn’t spell worth it a damn.  The funniest one she’d seen had been on a church sign that said, “Not haven Jesus in this life is hell on Earth.”

“So, how is Jennifer and Kathy’s wedding coming?” Melissa asked her friend.

The waitress gave her a funny look as she set down her coffee, topped with a copious amount of whipped cream. “Anything else, ma’am?” she asked, seeming reticent to disrupt the conversation.

“Ma’am?” Melissa said, mid-conversation. “Please, I’m not even thirty.”  Melissa dismissed her by resuming the discussion on hers and hers bath towels.

The girl looked confused, then went back to work.

~

A group of people were having some kind of Bible club behind her while she finished her coddled eggs (another thing Mandy had never heard of), and it was making her uncomfortable. She turned around, looking aggrieved.  “Would you guys try holding that praying jazz down?  It’s really offensive to those who don’t believe.  Thank you.”  That was how she always got what she wanted—assuming she would get it anyway.

“We’ll pray for you, Sister,” one of them called out, so she sucked down the rest of her coffee, leaving a ten dollar tip. As she looked back, she saw the waitress’s astonished expression.  The girl did need some dental work, after all, and Melissa’s inherited wealth was a bit embarrassing.  She was like the only one-percenter in this greasy spoon.

A young, Mormony-looking couple holding hands walked by her car, pointing and shaking their heads. “Coexist only works if the others don’t want to chop your head off or blow you up,” she heard the man say.

God, what the Christian hell is wrong with these people? They are so paranoid, Melissa thought. This part of the country bled red, so it was no wonder.  She couldn’t wait to get to Aunt Addie’s house.  She’d kept in touch with her lonely great-aunt for the past several years, and she’d always seemed like a fairly rational person, albeit old-fashioned.  She didn’t know how her aunt stood living in a place that was so damn American Gothic Horror.  It was like freaking Pleasantville.

~

When she reached her aunt’s beach house, she was in awe. The sand was as white as sugar, the gulf vacillating between emerald and sapphire.  A wrinkle in the sky divided land from sea, and the sea oats swayed like dancers in love at the end of the night.  She even though she saw a dolphin making a graceful arc.  There wasn’t anything like this in New York.  The Jersey Shore didn’t even compare.

“Melissa?” a sixtyish woman said, coming out in a tank, Bermuda shorts, and flip-flops. An ivory Virgin Mary blended in to the landscape, but the “Marriage is Between a Man and a Woman” bumper sticker did not.

Melissa had always been vocal about her beliefs and non-beliefs, but she had never quite pegged her aunt as a Christian conservative, and yet, here she was, welcoming her into the folds of her embrace like it didn’t matter. It was then that Melissa knew she was in very grave danger here—of losing her heart to this place where it was flip-flips and bikini tops all summer long, where it didn’t snow, but rained at Christmas, and where everything was fried (except peanuts, which were boiled); where there was a church on every corner, and a hobo or Bible-thumper on the other.

Yes, she was, indeed, afraid of falling in love with this lovely place.

 

To Pleasantville…and Back

A few days ago, I watched “Pleasantville” for the first time.  My husband thought I’d like it because most of it was in black-and-white, and was set during the time period, which, according to a BuzzFeed quiz, I belong in.

Yes, I love “I Love Lucy” (I rewatch the series every few years and am a “liker” of the Facebook fan page, “A Daily Dose of ‘I Love Lucy’; when I was younger, I always said if I ever had fraternal twins, I would name them Lucy and Ricky), I wear red lipstick (Mary Kay’s Downtown Brown, which looks red on me), saddle oxfords were my favorite shoes as a little girl, and the only pair of pants I own is the one pair I have to wear for work (dresses and skirts always outside of work); even my wedding dress (or suit) looked more like something my grandmother would have worn to the Justice of the Peace, and my wedding hat and veil (reminiscent of Jackie O)

was an original from the sixties–an Etsy find.  My grandmother’s copper Jell-O molds (which I’ve spotted in old movies–always a thrill) adorn my kitchen wall; I even work at a retro-style diner.

When I got an unexpected check in the mail, the first words that came to mind weren’t “Hot damn!”, but rather, “Hot dog!”  Yes, I watch lots of old movies (95% of the movies I own pre-date 1965, though I no longer buy movies, now that I have a DV-R).  ABBA is the most recent band I like.

I am what you would call a square, with rounded, perhaps lacy edges.

When I was eighteen, I saw a commercial with a placid woman standing in front of a lighthouse, advertising a free Book of Mormon.  The commercial appealed to me, and so I ordered a book online.  I had a choice between having the book sent to me via USPS, or I could have two Mormon missionaries deliver it to me personally.  I chose the latter (pun intended).

I chose that option because I wanted to see what Mormons look like.  Of course, the first thing that came to mind was polygamy.  I think it was more curiosity than anything that prompted me to order the book, and what a life-changing whim that turned out to be.

I ended up becoming baptized, though when the missionaries mentioned tithing, and how it was required to be a member in good standing, I, remembering what my parents said about being beware of any church that asks for money, fell away.

Nine months or so passed, and I met a boy (at a political group at University) whose name was familiar from high school, though we’d never met.  He sort of dated/socialized me back into the Church, and by the time we broke up, I was fully converted.  I hadn’t fallen in love with him, but I’d fallen in love with the Church.  The Mormon lifestyle is like a throwback to the Fifties–I felt like I’d finally found the Church that I was made for.

Living in the South, I’d churched around quite a bit.  (Being a “Jesus Freak” was big in the eighties and early nineties, though I never referred to myself as one.  Just not my personality to wear my religion on my sleeve).  Pensacola, Florida, is like a Christianity smorgasbord–if you’re a Christian, there is a church for you somewhere here.  Never before had I felt so welcomed.  It felt good, and it felt right, and it was, for me, at that time.

The Church was a wonderful experience, till I went to Utah, and lost my testimony in Joseph Smith.  The father of the boy I had dated had admonished me not to go, and, to the best of my recollection, he’d told me if I went, they’d lose me, and they did.  I can never regret going, though, for because of my leaving, I am the person I am today.

I went through a period of bitterness towards the Church, and then I found my way back as not an ex-Mormon (which has an negative connotation), but as a former Mormon.  My Mormon friends, whom I’d avoided for so long, did not judge me, or stop being my friend (they are still some of my closest friends), even though they know I will never come back.

So, to segue back to my opening, I watched “Pleasantville”–a film which I believe some parts are open to interpretation (sort of like the Bible).  The townspeople who live a moral lifestyle are shown as being bland and colorless, while the ones who engage in sin become vibrant and full of life.  I don’t look back and see my life as a Mormon that way.  Being a member of the Church did not stifle my creativity, but enhance it.  Granted, some of the stuff I write now, they would not approve of, but my experience as a Mormon helped me tap into a spiritual wellspring (and bring me closer to God) that no other Church had ever been able to do.

The boy Reese Witherspoon has sex with sees a rose in color for the first time because he fell in love, but Reese doesn’t see color after their trysts because she doesn’t feel the same–she doesn’t see color until she reads a classic book for pleasure.  Tobey Maguire becomes colorized when he saves his mother from being molested by a group of young boys (after the man she is having an affair with, who supposedly loves her and she him, paints a nude picture of her on his malt/soda shoppe’s window).  Jeff Daniels doesn’t see color until he begins to pursue his passion of painting, and the woman who plays Tobey and Reese’s mother doesn’t turn colorful (or see in color) until she pleasures herself sexually/has an affair with Jeff Daniels (one of the points of the film I had a problem with–I’d have preferred her to become colorized when she and her husband had rediscovered each other on a deeper level).  Though Reese putting aside her whorish ways was a positive note to end on, Don Knotts (who will always live on as Barney Fife) using the Lord’s name in vain, was a sour one to begin with.

I know there is much, much more to the movie than what I’ve discussed, but those particular parts of the film I related to.

Though I don’t agree with everything the movie says (or tries to say), I do think it’s worth watching at least once.  A great film it isn’t (in my opinion), but it makes you think, which is more than most movies accomplish.

I do agree that a false nostalgia exists, even for those who never lived during that time.  (Just as one can romanticize the Amish lifestyle, though they would never want to live it.)  Though I love so many things about that era, I belong in this present time.  I love the technology and medical advances that exist now, and all the opportunities for women to have fulfilling careers.  I’m glad it isn’t just chocolate, vanilla and strawberry.  I love more things that exist now, but didn’t then, than I could possibly enumerate.

“Pleasantville” is a state of mind, not of place and time.  Tobey and Reese seeing “the man behind the curtain”, so to speak, ripped off the beautiful façade that television presented.  I love “Leave it to Beaver”, knowing that things weren’t exactly like that, but rather a representation of all the good things that were.