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.

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.

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.

Tell me about a new sound…

Coronavirus Survivor’s Log- Day 9

Today dawned bright and sunshiny- well once the fog and my migraine cleared…huge white fluffy clouds interrupted blue as far as the eye could see and the sun warmed faces and and baked in much needed vitamin D. It’s amazing what a day of sunshine can do for the spirits. Our neighborhood crackled with sounds of life and it inspired me to come up with my very own writing prompt.

Today…tell me about a new sound…something that you haven’t heard for a long time or the first time or a sound you aren’t really sure you know…write for ten minutes….GO!

Our neighborhood is alive with new sounds this week. It’s been years since I have heard the amount of life coming from the trampolines and back yards on our street today. The dogs are so keen on it they bark back and forth like prisoners in isolation. Each guarding its own space, but letting the others know with a yelp and a shout what is happening on the other side of the fence or three doors down. Kids are playing, jumping and swinging and brothers yell back at sisters and laughter wafts through the air like the smell of my grandmother’s oatmeal raisin cookies.

It’s a cacophony of voices and laughter and somewhere, maybe a street over, a song or two. The windows of houses have been thrown wide and the songs of the lives inside are thrown out into the world for all to hear. It’s the crazy irony of humanity that in these days of social isolation I have learned more about my neighbors than I would have in the days of everything as normal. The sounds of daily life are a beautiful blessing in the midst of all this unknown. It feels like a sweet reminder that there is normal in the middle of new.

Keys

Coronavirus Survivor’s Log- Day 8

It’s Tuesday….I’m no officially into week two of this social distancing experiment and things are starting to settle into a rhythm. Whether that is good or bad, I don’t know yet, but here we are…doing our part….and I don’t hate it.

Today’s writing prompt comes from an art therapy online workshop I am working through called “Symbolic Journeys” by Shelley Klammer. She’s an amazing art therapist and online educator and I highly recommend ANY of her offerings as I have worked through several of them. This art prompt struck me yesterday, so I decided to sit in it a while and turn it to a writing prompt. So here you go…

Keys often symbolize opening and closing. Write for ten minutes about an area where you feel closed and what you want to open up to. GO.

Photo by Dids on Pexels.com

There is a part of me I struggle to let anyone see. A young, quiet part of my heart that isn’t wisened by experience, sharpened by trauma, or deepened by age. She sits and stares out at the world in wonder, but with a naivete I am ashamed to let the world see. She is the little one who doesn’t have all the answers. She is the one I’m afraid no one will love because she has nothing to offer the world but wide eyed wonder and a natural inquisitiveness to explore. She spills milk and breaks precious heirlooms and has no idea how to to pick the lock that lets her out into the world.

I hold the key to the lock on a janitor’s key ring on my belt loop. It’s an old key with three teeth and it hangs next to keys that keep all the other parts of myself locked behind closed doors. I’d love to let her out to play and skip and ask the question “Why?” fourteen times in a row, but the wisened, sharpened, deep part of me wonders if anyone will love this childish part of my heart. She brings no answers to the table, just more questions…and she’s likely to break an ancient artifact or two on her whirlwind tour around the house, but she sure would love to make the world her playground.

This is what I would love to open up to.

Sharing my young, immature, imperfect heart with the world and trusting that it would be accepted and cherished as much as the older, wiser, know-it-all part of me is. It’s a scary thing to unlock that door and let her out, but I’m gaining the courage to do it.

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.