Dear Journal: In Time

“The rich declare themselves poor, and most of us are not sure if we have too much. But we’ll take our chances ’cause God stopped keeping score…” ~George Michael

Dear Journal,

f6513bd24f5eeea3145b74664892f7efIt’s a definite, I guess. In time all things change, even the things I used to see as inflexible. Change doesn’t have to be a bad thing. It can just be something different than the way it used to be. I see it like having to change your password on a particular website. You might have been attached to your password, but subtle changes need to made to it for you to continue to visit that site. Something like that.

In time the world has become smaller. I have several international students in my classes this semester, which reminds me of this point. I have Facebook friends from far and wide across the globe, which reminds me too. It makes me want to learn other languages, to be able to speak with them in their native tongues.

In time things that were simple have become complicated, and things that were once difficult are now easy. We can copy entire catalogues of music onto something smaller than our wallets, but we don’t know what to do with ourselves during a blackout. We can read an infinite number of books on our eReaders, but our libraries are starting to die out. The cycle of decay reaches everything.

I went to the Utica Zoo this week, and I saw the decay there as well. It’s sad, really, that something dedicated to preserving and providing an adequate home for endangered species is itself breaking down — becoming endangered. Seeing the building falling into disrepair, the animal habitats cracking at the seams, it makes me hate time. Because time can ravage, leaving everything in its wake.

In time love can turn to hate, people die, and things are said that can’t be taken back. It always seems like we have so much time ahead of us when we’re young, but it hits us like a sledgehammer how little there actually is once we’re old. In time praying becomes cajoling, a bargaining for more when we only end up with so much less in the exchange. In time our dreams become memories that we eventually forget.

Sam

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Chatting With Lexi: The Scales

scales 10We were driving in the car tonight, on our way to the zoo, when, as often happens when she’s not using her iPad, Lexi asked me about where the animals go in winter. I thought about it, realized I had no answer, and basically said the zoo people know how to handle the situation. She was nonplussed, but moved on. Then she told me about how she had been there for a friend’s birthday a few weeks ago, which reminded me whose birthday it is today…

Me: Speaking of birthdays, did you know that it is Michael Jackson’s birthday today?
Lexi: He’s your favorite singer. Does he still have birthdays even though he’s dead?
Me: Well, it’s still the day he was born on, so I guess so. I remember it anyway.
Lexi: How old would he be today?
Me: Um… well, he died seven years ago so he would be fifty-seven today.
Lexi: Wow, and people still celebrate it?
Me: Yeah. Why not? He was very influential to a lot of people, just like he still is to me, even though he’s dead.
Lexi: Because there’s still a lot of music he put out that you can listen to.
Me: Exactly right.

So I decided to check my iPod for MJ songs so I could play a few in honor of his birthday, but my iPod is all screwy and somehow I only have five MJ songs on it at the moment. I set it to play all five songs, and the first one was “Remember the Time.”

Me: This one’s called “Remember the Time.” It’s from 1992, and the video was spectacular. All of his videos were spectacular.
Lexi: What was it about?
Me: Well, it was about Egypt. It had an Egyptian theme.
Lexi: I LOVE EGYPT!
Me: I know you do. And I do too, at least how it’s represented in the video for this song.
Lexi: What does the video show?
Me: Well, it’s set in ancient Egypt. Eddie Murphy is this Pharaoh, and Michael Jackson is a magician trying to win the favor of the Pharaoh…
Lexi: I know all about ancient Egypt. When they died, it’s real nasty, but they took out the organs and put them in these jars.
Me: Yes, canopic jars.
Lexi: Yeah, those. They put all the organs in them, but not the heart. The heart they left in the body.
Me: How come?
Lexi: Because after death they were supposed to go to the underworld and this god down there weighed the heart on these scales. There was like this feather of truth on the scales too, and if the heart weighed more than the feather some bird ate the heart and you couldn’t go to the afterlife.
Me: Whoa. Are you serious?
Lexi: Well, yeah, something like that. It was rough.
Me: Did you know that many mythologies deal with something like these scales you’re talking about?
Lexi: No. I only know about that because it was in this book I read about ancient Egypt.
Me: Would you be scared if they were going to take your heart to weigh it?
Lexi: No. I would be DEAD. I wouldn’t know anything.
Me: I know that, but if you were still aware of things…
Lexi: Um, that can’t happen, dad.
Me: Okay, okay. Whatever. My point is that even to get to the afterlife you have to take this serious test. It’s like school, except with scales.
Lexi: Um, yeah, it’s nothing like that.
Me: How would you know? Were you around back then?
Lexi: How did we even get on this topic anyway?
Me: Because I talked about Michael Jackson.
Lexi: Oh yeah. Can you turn up the volume on that?
Me: Sure, Lex. Sure.

Sam

Building Blocks

I rode a bicycle when I was younger. It was a Huffy, and I remember struggling to get it out of the box. I remember my uncle helping me set it up so that it looked like a real bike, and putting me upright on it. I remember sitting on the seat and imagining I was James Dean. Then I slid up the kickstand and I pushed off from the curb.

I crashed to the ground within seconds, skinning my knees. But my uncle didn’t give up on me, even though I was crying and determined not to get back on the bike. He told me he knew I could do it, and fifteen falls later, and a few other skinned body parts aching, he was proven right. I rode that bike like a champion and I never looked back.

During those fifteen falls I was cursing him though. I didn’t know why he was so adamant that I needed to learn it. I hated that I couldn’t just do something else. But the feeling of satisfaction I got from mastering the art of bike riding was well worth all the pain and all the bad thoughts along the way. 

Now, nearly 30 years later, I think back on that moment, when I finally conquered the two-wheeled behemoth, as the time when I realized failing was essential to success. I realized that there is no better feeling than getting over some obstacle I think will always be in my way. Because obstacles move, and they become building blocks along the way to something more.

Sam

Words

These words are not mine
Even though they pass my lips
Like sparkling lemon water
Making me thirst for more
The undulating rhythms
Of living language thrive
They constantly vibrate
But I study them from afar
These turns of phrase
This quickening of terms
Shaking me to my core
They say such sweet things
But I don’t quite get them all
Though I give them their space
So they can breathe without me
This page filling with ink
Bleeding in blacks and blues
Spreading in all directions
And I can’t always follow
As they leave me in their wake
These reminiscent shadows
Of the words I used to know
When they belonged to me
Before I set them free.

Sam

When a Friendship Ends

“When a friendship ends, people don’t always give it the same amount of thought that they do relationships. With an ex-boyfriend, there are discussions of bad timing or different expectations. But most of the time, friendships end in a different way — slowly, and without declaration. Usually people don’t really notice until a friend has been gone for a while and then they just say they grew apart, or their lives became too different.” ~Jennifer Close (The Hopefuls).

235571-oI’ve given it a lot of thought, this idea of endings. Obviously every relationship has a beginning. These starts are generally demarcated by introductions or shared initial moments. They are definite. Sometimes only one person remembers the exact particulars, and sometimes neither one does, but you do remember when you weren’t friends. Then something shifted.

But endings — well, they do tend to be gradual among friends. At least that’s what I’ve noticed. One friend can’t make a lunch date on a Tuesday. Two weeks later the other one is too busy to take a phone call. Before you know it so much time has gone by since you even texted each other that now it would seem a bit awkward to text out of the blue. So it stretches on. Then when you’re relaying a story to someone else later, a memory of the two of you, you realize it’s all in the past tense. The entire relationship. That it has all been in the past for quite some time.

Don’t get me wrong. Not all friendships are created equally. That’s just the nature of the beast. Some friends are meant to be transitory, to fill a void in your life at a particular time when you need someone there, then they’re gone. Sometimes you’re that friend for someone else. Most times you both know it, but you go with it because it’s beneficial for everyone involved. Those can be very sweet friendships. But other friends seem like they’re in it for the long haul, so what happens to derail them?

It’s honestly a combination of a few things, in my opinion. A good friend needs to be 1) a good listener, 2) able to be empathetic, and 3) there in times of need. And it needs to be reciprocal. You can’t expect these 3 things from someone else and not be willing and able to give them in return. It’s this last part that I think dooms so many friendships because they end up being lopsided. One person gives and gives, the other takes and takes, and there’s never any time for reciprocity.

Beware when you’re the friend who is always there for others because you’ll get that label and it will stick with you. When others befriend you it will be because they need something from you, because they know you’ll be a good friend to them. And you will, because you’re the giving type of person. But eventually you will need something, and others won’t be there, because they don’t know how. Because you’ve allowed them to be takers for so long that they don’t even know where to begin when it comes to giving.

See, it’s those friendships that are reciprocal, the one when both friends give and take equally, that last for a long time.

I’m not saying it’s your fault you’re such a good friend, but usually those kinds of friendships end when you stress the point, when you need them and they’re not there for you. It can be devastating when the realization hits that your entire support system is built on yourself as the sole support. It’s true that we need others in order to be stable, healthy human beings. No one is exempt from that.

So they disappear, or you are the one who vanishes, stuck in the cycle that can’t possibly sustain itself. See, it’s those friendships that are reciprocal, the ones when both friends give and take equally, that last for a long time. Those are the easy ones, where both friends ask how the other is doing more than just dropping more drama on each other. It’s so much easier to be there for each other than to simply expect the other friend to always be there for you, and not expect the same in return.

When a friendship ends someone is left holding the torch. Either it’s you, or it’s the person on the receiving end of your ambivalence. Everybody needs friends, people you can lean on when the going gets rough, but who are also just there for you when you need to share good news, or you need a piece of advice. We all need a pick-me-up in the middle of a particularly difficult day, an ear that will always listen to us, yet someone objective enough to always tell us the truth, even if we might not want to hear it.

When a friendship ends there is a fracture in the system of our lives, whether we know it or not. I often think of those who have disappeared, those who used to wander these halls with me but who have now moved on to new halls in new buildings in their lives. And I don’t blame them. It takes two. They just weren’t ready to be that second person. They weren’t equipped to be that two-way street. And it’s okay. I need people in my life who are.

Sam

Flash Fiction Challenge #8 (Something New)

flashfictioncartoon-300x300Back in 1998 I was writing… a lot. And most of what I wrote back then was short fiction. It was a renaissance of sorts because I hadn’t really planned on it. In fact, for the past year before that I was writing a lot of poetry snippets. Not real poems, mind you, just bits and pieces, lines here and there that came to me. Suddenly, though, those lines transformed into snatches of conversation. Those words became characters who spoke to me, forcing me to set them in motion and see what happened.

Before this challenge I could probably count on two hands the number of short stories I’d written over the past year. That was probably because of many factors, not the least of which was the maintenance of my blogs. I guess I forgot that writing short fiction could be a part of anything else I decided to write. But I’m proud to say that if this is my second renaissance it is a fruitful one. I’ve fallen in love once more with short fiction during this challenge.

Only three more stories to go. Here are the rules of the Flash Fiction Challenge…

  1. Each entry has to follow a set prompt
  2. Each entry has to be 1,000 words or fewer
  3. Each entry has to be written specifically for this challenge

“Something old, something new, something borrowed,” Thalia said, counting on her fingers and feigning confusion.

“…and something pink,” laughed Celie, fluffing her hair in front of the gilt-edged mirror.

“It’s something blue, silly,” Thalia corrected before giggling. She couldn’t help herself.

“What. Ever,” said Celie, fingering the chiffon fringe of the ivory gown on the rack in front of her.

“Although pink would certainly be more interesting in a wedding,” added Thalia, grinning. “Imagine pink bow ties on the groomsmen, pink shoes on the ring bearer, pink highlights in the groom’s hair.”

“If the groom has pink highlights, I’m going to say that couple is not staying together,” Celie said, letting the gown slip through her fingers and moving on to the next one.

There were miles of gowns at the Wedding Wearhouse, rack after rack of white, off white, off off white, and other pale shades of dresses. On first glance they appeared ghost-like in the massive space of the Wearhouse, as if twenty thousand headless brides awaited their grooms in shameless expectation, pressed together like cattle at milking time.

Celie was bored, and she wasn’t even a bridesmaid. She wasn’t the maid of honor either, even though she was Thalia’s best friend, and had held the title since grade school. But it didn’t phase her because 1) Thalia wasn’t even getting married, and 2) she didn’t believe in weddings. They were only at the Wearhouse because her friend wanted to jumpstart the proposal she was certain was just around the corner.

But Celie knew that Brett was never going to propose, at least not anytime soon. He was the kind of guy who talked a good game but never got off his ass long enough to do anything he said he would. In fact, if looks could be believed, he had gone backward instead of forward when it came to commitment. More often than not he did things without even telling Thalia, and she let him. Celie knew if that was her she would have dumped him ages ago, but Thalia was a bit of a pushover.

And a bit of a romantic, the hopeless variety.

“A guy can be into pink and not be gay,” said Thalia, holding up a strapless gown against her size zero figure with her eyebrows raised.

“Uh, yeah, and my father watches Barney every night before bed,” huffed Celie, flopping onto a nearby chair as if exhausted.

“There are worse things to watch than a big purple dinosaur,” Thalia said, tossing the gown into her shopping cart full of things to try on.

“Like your weight, so you can fit into that dress,” said Celie, smiling.

“Well, probably not this dress,” Thalia replied, eyeing the others in the cart.

“You’re worse than those bridezillas on ‘Say Yes to the Dress,'” laughed Celie, rolling her eyes.

“I just want things to be perfect,” said Thalia, sighing. The sound was more pitiful than anything else to Celie’s ears.

“And you’re absolutely certain Brett is going to propose?” Celie asked tentatively.

“I’m a million percent certain Brett is going to propose, silly,” Thalia said, her tone final.

“Well then, I would go with strapless,” said Celie. “You’ve definitely got the shoulders for it. It could be your something new.”

“Your something new can’t be the dress!” gasped Thalia.

“I don’t see why not,” Celie argued. “It’s new, isn’t it?”

“No, no,” maintained Thalia. “Your dress is above all of that stuff. It can’t be used for anything other than the most special thing on the most special day.”

“I thought the most special thing was getting married,” said Celie, laughing.

“Grrrrr, you get me so agitated,” Thalia said, but she was laughing too.

While Celie knew that Brett wasn’t ever going to strap on a pair and make an honest woman out of Thalia, she also knew the fiction was the only thing keeping her friend from being depressed. It was a fragile string to pull, so Celie knew she had to avoid pulling it at all costs. She had already voiced her concerns, but short of yelling them at Thalia there was really nothing else she could do but be supportive.

“You can get a new bra for the day,” Celie said with a straight face. “It can be one of those strapless ones that makes your boobs look like they’re floating. Like Princess Jasmine’s from Aladdin.”

“Like Princess Jasmine’s magical floating boobs from the kids’ movie Aladdin?” repeated Thalia, dissolving in giggles. “I’m sure that’s exactly how the director intended it. I’m sure he spent a lot of time wondering how her cartoon boobs were going to be supported.”

“Hey, it was before Pixar,” Celie argued. “They had to do something to keep the movie interesting.”

“You’re crazy, C,” said Thalia. “I hope you know that.”

“Seriously, though,” said Celie, her smile muted a tad bit. “It doesn’t even matter what you get, what’s going to be your something new, because when you find the right guy, and he’s standing there in front of you, you’ll feel new yourself.”

“Wow, I never thought I’d hear something so romantic out of your mouth,” Thalia gushed, leaning down to hug her friend. “You sure you don’t want to be my maid of honor?”

“You’re going to make me regret my caring side,” laughed Celie, blushing. “I’ll think about it. You gotta get engaged first though, then some back and ask me again.”

“You’d better believe it,” said Thalia. “You know, you’d look great in taffeta.”

“Yeah, I’m out of here,” Celie said, rising from the chair.

“And we’re back to the way things are supposed to be,” Thalia laughed, pushing her cart in the direction of the fitting rooms, Celie trailing a few steps behind.

And for the first time ever, she hoped she was wrong. Because if Brett broke Thalia’s heart she knew it would break hers too.

Sam

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