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.

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 dishes…

Coronavirus Survivor’s Log-Day 16

Today I got to go to a very special photo shoot….of my brain…hopefully to discover the source of the leaky faucet of brain juice that drip drip drips every time I move or bend over. I have a ton of experience with CT scans and MRIs…as one does when they have a severe TBI, so they don’t scare me, but I am interested to see what this one tells us.

So today, I thought I’d go a little easy on us with a prompt and talk about a subject we are all pretty familiar with these days….the dishes. So here’s your writing prompt for the day…

Tell me about a time you washed the dishes. Write for ten minutes….GO!

I stack the plates my sister cleaned off the table and start the water. She’s already taken the time to clear out the dishwasher while we were making Christmas dinner for our family of 17. It was an impromptu feast thrown together by my sisters and I when my mother came down with cellulitis on Christmas Eve.

My sister continues to gather the dishes and I rinse them as she does. She moves to the other side of me in my mother’s tiny galley kitchen and begins to load the dishwasher. We work in silence, she and I, exhausted by the hustle and bustle creation of the traditional Christmas dinner. It was important to us to make it delicious and right and all the things that Christmas has always been. We wanted to do that for our mom.

It’s quick work, with the two of us seamlessly working as a team. We do that well together…we have learned as we’ve painted together this year…and it is a beautiful thing. I finish the dishes and watch the suds swirl down the drain. It’s all over…the cooking and the eating and the visiting…and we close the dishwasher and start it up.

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.

Another writing prompt for you…

Coronavirus Survivor’s Log- Day 6

It’s been a full week since we’ve started this experiment in social distancing…a hail Mary pass to save the world. It’s such a weird thing to choose to follow the rules and assume that the rest of the world is too, and then discover that there are those who are still congregating and shaking hands and sharing germs. I won’t get into how that makes me feel, but it does play into my response to the below writing prompt. I just want to lead with this- I am ok, I promise. I’ve always been very careful about the words I share in this space- only sharing uplifting, positive messages. But the truth is writing is a valuable outlet for me to flesh out thoughts that trouble me. Free writing exercises in particular are powerful tools for me to think un-edited. I have committed to share these with this space in their original, raw form. So if it seems this writing is darker than my usual, this is the reason. Welcome to the un-edited mind of Cari. I hope you’ll stay a while.

It has been an interesting exercise to find myself writing on the regular again. Even more interesting are the requests I get from more than one person when these posts are late at night and seem to be forgotten. I didn’t think anyone else but my friend and I were really engaged by these…turns out I was wrong. So for those of you following along out there quietly, I will try to make sure these are posted with more regularity. But no promises…:)

Today’s prompt is an interesting one. I’m skipping over a lot of the explanation, but know that this one had a lead in that is worth the read. You should invest in Old Friend From Far Away if you have any interest at all in writing. In the end, Natalie Shares this:

Tell me this: what’s the difference between a passion and an obsession? These are the kinds of questions writers love to ponder. Would you rather haven an obsession or a passion? Hint: obsession is linked to suffering.

Natalie Goldberg, Old Friend From Far Away

Write for ten minutes, keep the hand going, what are your obsessions? Go…

Sheesh… a loaded question- one that wreaks of dangerous knowledge and introspection. What am I obsessed with?

Understanding people….understanding myself. It’s a dangerous obsession that ranks first for me…before peanut butter and those chocolate chip cookies filled with frosting they make at Great American Cookie Company. The danger comes in the knowing. Once you understand a person’s motives…say even your own- you can’t un-know them. The danger comes in understanding- it paves the way for then rationalization and excuse.

Understanding what drives people opens the door to manipulation- but of who? It’s a long, dark hallway with a ton of doors- some locked, some not- but none marked with the final address. It’s easy to get turned around and lost down that corridor and never know that you’ve made a wrong turn.

That’s my obsession. I’m obsessed with knowing the why behind people’s actions. Understanding the constant push and pull of relationship and the need of some to ride emotional roller coasters until they are nauseated and disoriented. It causes heartache though, because once you understand it is difficult to find fault and without someone to hold the blame the world just descends into a writhing mosh pit of emotional pain.

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.

Just a little something to pass the time…

Coronavirus Social Distancing Log- Day 3…

Our world has gone a bit crazy, people are in the aisles hoarding toilet paper and paper towels, every kid is a homeschooler now and the pace of life is beginning to slow to a crawl. In an effort to stay sane and maybe to seize upon the beautiful opportunity we’ve been given to reflect and create and love our families and well, just be. My friend, Kati and I were chatting about how we were muddling through this experience and she brought up writing prompts. I told her I was trying my hand at them again and would share them with her, and she encouraged me to return to this space and share them here. So that I’ll do….for how long- I won’t make any false promises, but for today at least.

This prompt comes from my favorite place to explore memory and memoir- Old Friend From Far Away by Natalie Goldberg. It’s simple….just write….for ten minutes…no editing. The prompt is Storage.

Tell me about a storage unit or someplace you stored things. Write for 10 minutes. Go.

Storage

There’s a box that sits on my bedside table that holds the oddest collection of things. I can’t remember where I got it, but the metal hinges are rusted and complain a bit when you swing them open. The dry wood is carved with intricate symbols of a religion that no longer whispers meaning to me. It’s full of interesting odds and ends from a life that seems eons ago. A St Christopher’s medallion blessed by the Pope, dog tags that proudly proclaim my blood type and social security number. There’s a tie tack in there that I was awarded when I left the Army and the silver dollar my great uncle gave me along with my first salute. My 11th BDE belt buckle and challenge coin that used to travel every where with me, even overseas….even into war…lest I be caught without it and challenged by a brother in arms. It smells of sandalwood and patchouli and way too many other kinds of incense and it reminds me of a girl who doesn’t live here anymore. It’s an odd feeling to look back over items of a past life and realize you’re no longer connected to them. But still they sit, in that carved wooden box, on my bedside table.