Jello…

Coronavirus Survivor’s Log- Day 27

First, sorry about the five day hiatus. I just didn’t feel like writing much…and I’ve been obsessing over a project that my company is working on that will be really cool if we can get it off the ground. It feels really good to work on something…to work hard and stay up late and turn stuff in and put a check mark on a to do list. I am learning as things simmer here in the land of social isolation how to lay the list down, but, man, does it make my heart sing to make a list and check things off it.

Today, I’m actually gonna share some writing I wrote a hot minute ago back in January of 2014. But it was one of my favorite prompts and maybe one of my favorite things I’ve written. During my hiatus,I did some cleaning and organizing of a bookshelf in my room and I found an old Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle notebook that was full of responses to these Old Friend from Far Away prompts…so you get the joy of reading one of those…and maybe you’ll write too!

The prompt is: Jello. Tell me about jello. Write for ten minutes…GO!

Cubes of red jelly on white background

Jello and I have a love-hate relationship. It is a long and sordid history to tell but mostly I love to hate jello. It is a slimy, jiggly non-food whose only real offering is sickeningly sweet stains on my best white shirt. It tastes like curdled Kool-aid and ice cubes. Not even two full cups of sugar can rescue jello from my loathing.

I have hated jello for as long as I can remember. I’ve oft tried to pinpoint my exact distrust of the substance. Perhaps it is that jello is a food stuck between worlds-not quite solid, but not liquid either. Or that it derives it’s flavor from a Kool-aid like substance that never bears a hint of resemblance to the fruit which it claims to taste like. Perhaps it is that odd sugary coating that stays with me after jello slithers its way down my throat. Perhaps it is simply that I cannot chew it. I do not trust that which I cannot chew.

There have been moments I have loved jello though. I was talking about jello being made of boiled bones the first time I realized my ex-boyfriend was still in love with me. his eyes lit up and he asked me to say the word “bones” again and again. He tucked a strand of my hair behind my ear and told me he had forgotten how cute I was. I did not love him back, but the realization was power an I kind of loved jello for a moment.

Jello sustained my grandmother with its sugary nourishment in the last months of her battle with cancer. In those weeks I sat in awe of the magic liquid turning to near solid and for a brief time I loved jello dearly.

The first time I realized I could never truly love jello I was in pre-school. I attended a pre-school I could never quite fit- an overly legalistic place that took its role in educating society’s future about appropriate Christian gender roles quite seriously. Girls played house. Boys played legos and lincoln logs. There was no crossover. I spent many of my days hiding behind the toyboxes playin glincoln logs with the boys. I was constantly getting in trouble.

The final straw for me was the day they served jello for a snack. I poked at is jiggly surface, squished it with my fingers, but refused to eat it. My teacher was furious.

“You will eat it or sit there until you do.”

“I don’t like jello. Can I have broccoli instead?”

“No…you will sit there.”

And I sat….and sat….and sat…

For three hours I sat. Poking and squishing until my mom came to get me after she finished her day of work.

Made with love

Coronavirus Survivor’s Log- Day 22

I am torn between the idea of tracking the number of days we spend in isolation for posterity’s sake and ending the tracking because watching the days go by actually is a little bit insanity inducing. But for now, I will continue to count the days I think. Today is the third day that I got up, got dressed and created a to do list. Truly, for working in an industry that is completely shut down right now, I am busier than I have ever been. The imagination wheel is turning so fast I feel as though there is steam coming out of my ears. I am struggling with finding the balance between my work space and my home space since technically they both take place, well, within the same space…but I am learning to balance those…sort of. Between that and resetting my super whacked sleep schedule, I think after nearly a month, I am beginning to figure things out.

Today’s writing prompt popped into my head because of my son’s request for shepherd’s pie for dinner. He said it was one of his favorite dishes because “it always tasted like love to him.” That got me thinking about what love tastes like and I came up with this prompt:

Tell me about a time you tasted love in the food. Write for ten minutes…GO!

My grandma used to say you could tell when food was cooked angry or with joy. She said if you tasted it with your heart and ate it slow and with focus, you could tell just what kind of mood the cook was in when they made it. She said the secret to her cast iron skillet biscuits was love. She said she never made biscuits when she was angry…they wouldn’t rise.

And she was right. My grandma’s food always tasted like love. The songs she hummed while she cooked were sung back to you by the spices she would use….even when she sliced a tomato from her garden and salted and peppered it carefully…you could taste the love right there on the plate.

My dad’s mother infused love into her food too. I still remember the pot roast she would have ready for us on the first night we would come to visit. I remember the green serving dish she plated it up on and the fact that it never needed more salt. She would always make me a fried egg and toast for breakfast and I still, to this day, can’t make it taste the same.

My mama’s chili can make all your problems disappear for a moment…or her potato soup…or her chicken devan casserole. It’s always made with the perfect amount of spice and full of all the comforts of home. It feels like a hug in a bowl.

I hope that my food feels that way. Full of all the mysticism of a mother’s love and the secret truth that I never make the same thing twice because I never measure or fully follow the recipe and always cook by heart.

Lost

Coronavirus Survivor’s Log-Day 20

Crazy, huh? Day 20? Today I walked 8,000 steps and sat for 4 video conference meetings…I actually made a to do list and time boxed my day today. It almost felt like normal. Almost, except that normal doesn’t usually involve cuddly puppies, helping your senior draw the lattice structure of Potassium Oxide, and talking your junior through a pretty graphic nightmare about watching her brother bleed out while waiting three hours for an ambulance. But it is the new normal…and it includes new challenges and new experiences and new and different ways of navigating life.

Speaking of navigating life, today’s prompt is about being lost. So why don’t you write about it? Tell me about a time you were lost. Write for ten minutes…Go!

Photo by Valentin Antonucci on Pexels.com

The woods around me felt like they were closing in on me. Everywhere I looked- the same trees, vines, brambles and leaves rose up around me. The map in my hands was some ancient language known only to the land navigation gods and I had no idea what to do with the magnetic compass that dangled around my neck.

Failure stormed through the back of my mind and stung my eyes with frustration. I was tired…I had been walking for hours. Three points into a seven point land navigation course that didn’t just hold the keys to understanding how to make my way through the woods, but also the all important grade in my sophomore military science class.

I sat down by a tree, wondering at what point would someone come for me. Would they even be able to find me? I leaned my head on my knees and felt the cold of the forest floor seep into my skin through my ROTC issued battle dress uniform. Tears ran down my face, soaking the front of my jacket…I was a mess.

In the distance, I heard a tree branch snap and looked up. There straight ahead and directly through the trees was the fourth marker. Another cadet had navigated his way to it and was writing down the coordinates on the map. I leapt to my feet and made my way to the marker.

Once I reached the beacon, it all made sense. From that location, I could easily make out the direction I needed to go. I only needed a little help to find it. I finished the rest of the course in less than an hour…and learned a valuable lesson.

Sometimes, when you are most lost, you just need a change of perspective to find your way.

The deepest ache…

Coronavirus Survivor’s log- Day 19

Days have stretched into weeks and every morning I wake there builds in me a little more restlessness. To say I have cabin fever is an understatement. The odd thing is, it’s not that I have a desire to be around others, I am perfectly ok with my family as companions…but I would love to have a change of scenery. Being stuck here in my home with a ton of things I could do, but can’t because of my current medical condition is so limiting and frustrating and I am soooo getting annoyed by it. But this is life today…so you know…I’m gonna write I guess. 🙂

Today’s prompt ache….tell me what ails you….tell me about your gout or back ache or the headache that won’t go away…or get deeper and tell me about the heartache that sticks with you. Write for ten minutes….GO!

My heart’s deepest ache was my own fault really. So many people warned me that I was heading for disaster, and I ran head long at the wall anyway. The idea to start a dance studio wasn’t the crazy part…my life was definitely shaped by the dance opportunities that I was exposing my daughter to. But I was choosing a partner whose heart I didn’t know to pour my hopes and dreams into. My family and friends continually asked me if it was a good idea…if I knew her well enough to enter into life together in that way….especially when my family’s well being was at stake and compromised as it had been by the circumstances that had begun the year.

I entered in anyway…and at first, life was exciting and interesting and all we had were hopes and dreams to fulfill and chase after. It became everything…my husband and I poured all our money and all our time and all our resources into building something special.

I should have seen the warning signs when that wasn’t enough.

When my heart started to be called into question and hurtful words were flung about I should have waved the white flag. I should have stopped everything when someone I trusted was called a liar, when my mother who was working for free was called incompetent and most importantly when my husband who was footing the bill for this great experiment was called abusive.

The abuse was not coming from my husband. It was coming from the woman I chose as my business partner. Every day…all day…from sun up to near sun up I was being brainwashed into believing I was never enough, I was weak and needed her, and a million other terrible things. My heart was being ripped to shreds and every last bit of light was being squeezed from it…and as that light faded, so did I.

The deepest ache I have ever felt was in those months when I locked away the woman I knew deep inside and silenced the warrior within. She beat at the walls of my mind and screamed to be released, but instead I showed up as an anxious little girl who needed someone to speak for her…it was safest that way I thought. Still that ache plagues me some days when I think of the time I lost…when I have to fight back the guilt and shame that I let all of the darkness creep in…when I think of the friends who will never speak to me again because of the lies that were told about me…when I think of the days I lost to depression and anxiety and the months that I couldn’t leave my house because I couldn’t find myself…when I think of the day I tried to take my own life because it was the only escape I could find from the constant evisceration my heart was taking at the hands of this woman who was supposed to be my friend.

It is the deepest ache I know. I am healing…slowly. Two years now and still sometimes I get the phantom pains when I hear words she might have said to me or the days when I feel ashamed at what I did while in her grasp- words I said, people I hurt. Or the days when I look at the financial wreckage my rescue caused our family…or the days when I miss the community and art we created.

It still the deepest ache I know…but it aches less every day.

Tell me about this morning…

Coronavirus Survivor’s Log- Day 15

Today’s the day! The day everything is supposed to return to normal! 15 days! Wait…what? “The next two weeks are going to be very, very painful…” You mean it’s not over?! Awww….mannnn….

Truthfully, I knew it wouldn’t be. I’m not sure when we will see “normal” again (if ever). Things have radically shifted in the span of really just a few weeks and it does seem like a life time ago since I hugged someone who was not my husband. But, this is what we do…our selfless act of heroism that each of us performs every day…staying home…staying away…staying alone…together.

Today’s prompt comes from my brain and the desire to make this morning normal in some way….So tell me about it…tell me about this morning….use all the senses. Write for ten minutes….GO!

Homemade biscuits. (Hillary Levin/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/TNS)

This morning started early with my usual alarm clock- my little black lab-huahua mix. It starts with a soft whine at 5:40 and escalates to a full on tongue bath at 5:45. There is no snooze for this alarm clock….only a trip downstairs swing open the door and a bowl of kibble for him and his doggie sister. This morning he let me crawl back in bed and snuggled in for the day’s first nap until 7:30.

I rolled out of bed this morning, showered, dressed, smoothed the blankets on the bed. A brief stop by my son’s room to wake him for the day tells me this morning is going to consist of breathlessly climbing the stairs more than once to get him and his sister rolling on their online courses. My daughter is still in isolation, so I merely open her door and holler in “time to get rollin’!” She rolls over and looks at me through slitted eyes. She murmurs something about not sleeping well and I know that she’s gonna need some real encouragement this morning.

I bound down the stairs and start some homemade biscuits for breakfast. My mama always made homemade biscuits for breakfast and the smell of them baking fills my kitchen with nostalgia and happy memories. I set out the butter to warm and jam and honey and skip around the kitchen a bit waiting for the beep beep beep of the oven timer to announce they are ready for consumption. When they come out, still warm and soft and flaky, I slice each one in half and place a pat a butter in the middle to melt, like my dad used to do.

I deliver my warm love to each of the members of our house…just like they like them. Grape jelly for my husband, honey for the kids, and for me…peach pepper jam. The biscuits are soft and melt in your mouth and I close my eyes and enjoy the moment.

By Heart…

Coronavirus Survivor’s Log-Day 14

I stayed up last night searching the interwebs for an example of what kind of procedure stops a brain leak. File that away under “Things you don’t want to know.” But in the process I got to thinking about these daily prompts and why I do them. The book, Old Friend from Far Away, is all about the practice of writing memoir. As such, in many ways it is an aid to access and write about memory in a real and non-fable-y way. I hope that you guys understand that….a lot of these prompts take me to long ago and relive moments from another lifetime. I say that, but today’s prompt brings me right into the present. Nevertheless, the point isn’t to draw some moral of the story, but just to be honest and, hopefully, to learn to capture that honest story in some sort of powerful way.

Today’s prompt is interesting…Tell me about something you know by heart. Write for ten minutes. GO!

Photo by Michael Morse on Pexels.com

I know his eyes by heart. The way the blue turns to pale ice when he’s tired and the lines that form like angel wings when he laughs. They sing out wisdom and intelligence and softly whisper compassion when he’s listening to your story. I love the way they narrow when he’s trying to figure something out and I even love the dark gray they turn when he’s angry.

They’re an odd color of blue that I’ve never quite been able to create with my paints. Not a hint of green at all, but like ice under the ocean, pale and frozen, with tiny flecks of yellow sunshine. He has these perfect rainbow arched brows that never need grooming. They frame his soul windows like arches above a beautiful stained glass.

When he smiles, they smile with him. They sparkle when he chuckles and light on fire when he laughs. They can bore a hole into when they are uncovering uncomfortable truths and shine comfort when you are scared. They are my favorite thing to wake up to each morning. I know his eyes by heart.

Feigned Indifference…

Coronavirus Survivor’s Log-Day 13

Don’t trust my day count…it’s my best guess.

Today we learned that my daughter has had contact with someone who has the dreaded COVID-19. It’s odd sort of mix of education and abilities I own, but among the random things I remember from my time studying biological sciences is the calculation of epidemiological vectors and rates. One brush with disease and I am turning our family into a case study for transmission opportunities. Yes, my children are in some sort of homeschooling hell when it comes to this particular subject, but I find it both fascinating and troubling at the same time. So now my poor girl is holed up in her room, desperately avoiding in me in the hopes of keeping me healthy. This takes isolation to a whole new level…and frankly….it stinks.

Today’s prompt is an interesting one…Tell me about a time you pretended not to care… write for ten minutes….GO!

I remember the time I called you and she was there. My dad and I screamed at one another….he said “Ungrateful..” I said, “You’re an **shole.” He said, “Get out!” I said, “gladly!”

I drove the twenty minutes back to town and picked up the pay phone at the Easy Mart just down the road from the apartment we had shared together for the last semester. I’d only been home for the summer for a couple of weeks. I missed your blue eyes and crooked nose and the way that you made fried eggs and pancakes at two in the morning when late night studying and sometimes partying kept us up too late. So when my people said I had changed and needed to get a hold of myself, you were the safe place I ran to.

I dropped 25 cents into the pay phone and dialed your number. I could hear Jimi Hendrix ripping away at his guitar in the background, and a girl’s voice say near your ear, “come back over here, I’m lonely.” I tell you I need a place to stay the night, and you crooned into the phone, “Oh, I’m so sorry baby…tonight’s no good. I have company.”

“A girl?” I asked….and then you tell me…she was the greatest girl….you’d never felt so alive…she totally gets you….and then you asked me, “Hey babe…you’re not mad or anything, right? This is always how it was…”

I swallowed my pride and my hurt and my heart way down deep…I buried that future of pancakes and fried eggs six feet under next to “one day I’ll be president” and “I look good as a blonde.”

“No…I’m not mad. Why would I care? I just thought you might like to hang,” and hung up the phone. It was the last I ever saw you.

Home…

Coronavirus Survivor’s Log- Day 12 (I think)…

Yesterday was an interesting day. I rose early and drank coffee with a friend via skype, I showered and did my hair and put makeup on and pants that weren’t stretchy for the first time in a few days. I preached a message to my church via webcam, zoom and Facebook Live about faith in the waiting and I took a long nap in the middle of the day. It was almost 8:30 by the time I made dinner and you know what? It kind of felt like a weird sort of normal. This is what our days are beginning to look like everyday. It’s odd and sort of comforting and I vacillate wildly from loving it to hating it in the same heartbeat.

Today’s prompt provides much the same feeling….Home. Where or what is home for you? Write for ten minutes….GO!

Photo by Quang Nguyen Vinh on Pexels.com

I have lived in the same house for the last 18 years, but home moves around for me. Two years ago it was the poolside lounge chair of my best friend’s back yard while I healed from an abusive business relationship. That summer I floated on blow up rafts and sunburned the tops of my shoulders an thighs and journaled my heart. Sometimes she and I would chat about what I was feeling, but most days, she just let me be and let the sun heal me the way summertime heat can do and just accepted that my quiet woundedness was part of me for a season.

Last summer, I decided that I wanted my own place to turn my face to the sun but I needed more color, so I painted murals of ocean sunsets and waves on my back fence and sanded down the boards of sixty year old porch swing my husband’s grandparents left us. We painted everything bright yellow and white and teal and bought cushions that screamed Mexican villa and for the first time in a long time, a part of my house became my home. I spend every moment that the weather is even slightly bearable out there…writing, reading, just sitting. It’s been invaded by new neighbor children behind us on their trampoline and sometimes with their nerf darts, but I don’t mind….it’s a song of life that drifts over my little island paradise in the middle of land-locked Arkansas. Since the social distancing order started, I’ve been out there a lot. Resting on the porch swing that my husband and I refurbished together, reading, checking email and just enjoying this escape I have carved out of our reality. It’s bright colors nourish me and the sun stamps vitamin D in my arms and my heart continues its healing process.

Coffee…

Coronavirus Survivor’s Log- Day 7

Wow, seven days….seven days since the world holed up and I started counting squares when using toilet paper. Seven days since community starved people actually started saying hello from across the street as we walk by with our black dogs in tow. Seven days since I’ve hugged anyone not in my immediate family. Seven days of home cooked meals and slow moments of boredom and time to do all the laundry and vacuum the floors more than once every couple of weeks. Seven days of writing for ten minutes a day and creating art each day and thinking through what happens if this is more than just a passing phase. A lot has happened in those seven days. It’s an interesting world we are living in right now. How are you making it? Leave me a comment…for reals, I’d like to hear proof of life right now.

Today’s prompt feels less heavy than the last few, but as I have yet to start my timer, we shall see. Tell me about how you drink coffee? When? Where? If you don’t drink it, tell me how you stopped. I bet you know more about coffee than the person drinking it. Write about it now. Ten minutes…Go.

Coffee…a beverage I never liked until forty creeped in on me and sleep stopped coming in the night. I have always loved the smell of coffee, but couldn’t savor the bitter taste that never quite lived up to the rich aroma it let off. Then those years of working full time, driving ballet car pool, math homework and worry over angry teenagers came rushing in and coffee’s bitter flavor was the taste of everyday life and I clung to caffeinated relief like a smoker clings to a cigarette.

I learned to love coffee in a small shop that opened downed the corridor from my office and across the hall from my daughter’s ballet studio. The shop owner had a way of caressing pastry dough that infused it with life and I fell in love with her and her place. She taught me that coffee’s bitterness was unique to each bean and I learned to savor it like a fine wine.

Now I’ve passed that passion to my son and we share its secrets together sometimes over a cup brewed in our tiny drip coffee pot and sometimes over a new spot one of us has discovered. I still think coffee tastes of bitterness and lies to your nose about it’s richness….but I’ve grown to love it. The bite of each bean is unique and tells a quiet story…it’s not unlike life really…bitter, sweet, aromatic and full of a story.

I’d love to hear your words here….you know since we are all in this together anyway….if you feel like it, I invite you to post your response to these prompts in the comments.

The Third Thing

Coronavirus Survivor’s Log- Day 4….Hey look, I’m still writing! Two days in a row, that’s a habit right (or something)? Today, Natalie gave a bit of an interesting prompt. What’s your “Third Thing?” She says,

What is the third thing? There is you and there is writing, But you can’t write about writing. It’s ingrown. You and writing must gaze out at a third thing…..What is your third thing? Yes, of course, it can be your memories. Go, for ten minutes.”

From Old Friend From Far Away by Natalie Goldberg

So here goes….my third thing…

Image by Sadie Stumm

What’s the third thing? The thing I’m staring out the window of my soul at right now? For me, it’s this new normal.

What do you call it…all the birdies in the nest, snuggled in and held tight against viruses and plagues and the sky falling on our heads.. Yep, that’s my third thing right now. This brave new world of social distancing and six foot pole greetings and the creeping fear of a silent enemy that may have already breached the concertina wire and hand sanitizer.

It’s crazy how a virus named after the brightest light has brought so much darkness. At the same time to watch the world bind together and do small parts to stay connected and keep everyone safe and healthy puts Peace on the throne of my heart. There’s been so much light to watch and so much air to breathe and it feels like a much needed rest is being imposed on the whole world. Some of us will fight against it like a toddler fights against nap time, but just maybe God’s there, rubbing our backs and singing a lullaby over our over stimulated hearts and minds.

I think maybe rest is actually my third thing after all and it is a phenomenon coming to the entire world at once. What an amazing opportunity to close our eyes and dream.

I’d love to hear your words here….you know since we are all in this together anyway….if you feel like it, I invite you to post your response to these prompts in the comments.