Kool-aid or Red Pills? (Aka: The Fountain of Youth, Revisited)

“If you could live forever, would you want to?”

Taken by surprise at the stranger’s question, I didn’t stop to think. I blurted out the usual socially-acceptable response. “No, I don’t think so. It’s difficult to imagine surviving beyond the deaths of my children and future grandchildren.” (Well, to be honest, this conversation took place during a Spanish language meetup. So what I responded was more like, “No lo pienso. Es difícil imaginar sobreviviendo mas allá que los muertos de mis hijos y nietos y todos.”)

But later, I pondered over the question. I also discussed it with my two younger kids, who, like me, love deep discussions about theoretical topics. And here is what I concluded:

Yes. I would like to live forever. As an extremely curious individual, I would love to be able to observe as the world changes over time. How will people dress in two hundred years? What sort of transportation will there be in half a century? Where will we live? What medical breakthroughs will there be? Will everyone eventually go vegan, or supplement their diets with insects instead of red meat? Will we finally colonize Mars or find intelligent life on other planets? Will Yellowstone ever erupt, filling the air with ash and plunging the planet into an instant ice age?

Inquiring minds want to know.

But if I am to drink of the fountain of youth, I have a few limits and prerequisites:

1. If I have to pull a Voldemort and create horcruxes in order to live forever, then I’m out. Huh-uh. A big, fat No-Way-José. I don’t want the snake eyes or the evil attitude.

2. Ditto for selling my soul to the devil. Renting it for awhle may be acceptable, depending on the terms of contract.

3. If the elixir of life contains the blood of young children, then I will also have to pass. Because ew. I’d prefer Kool-aid. Or like, a red pill.

4. I want to remain at my current age. If my body will continue to age and decay for the next couple hundred years, well, then that could get old. Even if I don’t. 

It’s interesting that this topic came up, since I just celebrated my 42nd birthday a few days ago. I don’t mind being middle aged. At least, not so far. I still feel like I did when I was 20. I still dance like I did when I was 20. I’m still just as flexible, can run just as fast, turn cartwheels just as well, and can still show off on roller skates. I even wear the same clothing size as I did back then. (Yes, I still own exactly one article of clothing — an expensive silk peignoir that I bought just before my 21st birthday, and it still fits well). Yes, my metabolism has slowed down a little. I have more softness around the middle. And I have (gasp!) exactly one gray hair on my head. But other than that, little has changed.

Who knows? Maybe I already stopped aging, just like Adeline, and Tuck, and Peter Pan. Maybe I already hold the key to eternal youth.


Or maybe I am just as human as everyone else, and will eventually have to come to terms with my own mortality. 

In that case, the best I can hope for, in terms of living forever beyond the misty veil of time, is to write. Perhaps I will someday pen stories that will be passed from generation to generation. Then my name and my work may continue long after I’m gone. As for those I love, well, many of you I have already written. Your faces, your quirks, the way you laugh, the way your eyes crinkle when you laugh, the way you chew the corner of your lip without realizing it, the way you walk, the lilt in your voice, the way your mouth curls when you speak, the words you say — I will capture those with my stalker writer skills of observation and memory. I will breath you to life with my fingers, and in this way, you will live forever, too.

Yes, I know. I’d rather drink from the fountain of eternal youth, too. But this is the best I can offer.


MUSIC ON MY MIND:

PoetBastille

Forever YoungAlphaville

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ZELLA (A Short Story)

When one is born with the gift of storytelling, one’s purpose is to offer those stories as gifts to the world. I hope that you enjoy this gift.



ZELLA

It took exactly seven minutes for me to figure out that there was something seriously wrong with Lake Vista High School. It took me just two more to figure out that it had something to do with Zella Marks.

 I don’t mean wrong like street gangs or drug problems (though I did wonder for a while there). I mean horror movie wrong. Buffy the Vampire Slayer hell-mouth wrong. It had all seemed normal for a moment. Familiar. The strips of lawn surrounding long, low stucco buildings. The clusters of students standing around, chatting in the corridors before school, dressed in the usual department store jeans and sweaters. The boring, cookie-cutter classroom that didn’t look any different from my math class back home.

 Home. I had to stop thinking of Rocklin as home. Lake Vista was home now, thanks to my parents, who thought it would be better, healthier for my younger brother, Jack, and me to grow up in a small town.

 “Smell that fresh air!” Dad had said when we arrived at or new house – a sprawling ranch-style with a sprawling yard that was big enough for horses, but would never have horses, thanks to Jack’s pet allergies. We all took a deep sniff of the clean, fresh air that smelled like the lilac bushes next to our new house, and vaguely of cows. Jack broke into a fit of sneezing. Dad cut down the lilac bushes the next day.

 “Welcome to Lake Vista, Sadie,” said Mr. Gordon, my first period teacher. “You may take your seat right behind Cassidy Price.” He pointed to a girl in the second row, who grinned at me as I slid into my seat.

 “You’ll like it here,” Cassidy said. “We all do. I can show you around at lunchtime, if you want, and introduce you to some – oh!” She had been grinning the whole time she was talking, but now, her face fell as her eyes flickered down to my clothes. I glanced down, too, certain that I must have a huge stain on my shirt or something. She dropped her voice to a whisper. “You’re not wearing any blue.”

 “So?” I had picked out a pair of black jeans and a plain, olive green t-shirt. Clasped around my neck was a slender gold chain, from which dangled a tiny heart-shaped pendant. My dad had given me the necklace when I turned sixteen, and I’d worn it every day since.

 “But we’re supposed to wear blue.” Her eyes were round. “Where’s your blue?”

 I blinked. “What is this – Smurf Day?” I looked around the room. That’s when I noticed that everyone was wearing something blue. Blue jeans, blue baseball caps, blue flannel shirts. One girl even had blue streaks dyed in her hair. It would have made sense if Lake Vista’s school color was blue instead of green and gold.

 The bell rang, and everyone fell silent, eyes facing the front of the room. Mr. Gordon made no move to start class. He stared back at the class, occasionally reaching up to tug on his blue necktie. I was tempted to raise my hand and ask what we were supposed to be waiting for, but just then classroom door swung open.

 “Hell-o-o!” A girl sang out. She strode to the front of the classroom, her blue corduroy pants rubbing together with each step. “Ooh, I love all these blue clothes! It’s like swimming in the ocean.”

 “I like your clothes, too, Zella.” A boy with blonde curls gazed up at the girl with a fawning expression.

 “Aww, Prentice, you are so sweet.” Zella ruffled the boy’s hair like she was petting a loyal dog. “Mr. Gordon, I think we’re ready to begin,” she said. As she turned back toward the rest of us, I leaned forward, wondering just how math classes in Lake Vista began their day. I was expecting Zella to rattle off some dull announcements, or maybe to lead us in the Pledge of Allegiance.

 What I did not expect was for the entire blue-clad sea of students to burst into song. Especially the chorus of an old Michael Jackson song, Heal the World. As they serenaded, Zella swayed from side to side, hands lifted high in the air. My mouth hung open as I watched the spectacle. Nope, I definitely wasn’t in Rocklin anymore.

 As the song ended, Zella spotted me. “Hi there, new girl,” she said, bending over and totally invading my personal space. Her breath smelled like peppermint gum. “Where’s your blue?”

 I shifted away. “Umm…guess I didn’t get the memo.”

 “Oh, you’re funny!” She laughed – a way too loud, guffawing type of laugh. “Listen, here in my school, everyone wears blue.”

 I snorted. Was she kidding? “Why, is it the law?”

 Her eyes bore into mine. “It is because I will it so. Starting tomorrow, you will wear blue. Every. Day.”

 I could feel a pool of anger ooze toward the surface, like lava. I didn’t care for people giving me orders. “Look,” I said, my voice like steel, “It’s obvious that you’ve got some kind of god complex. But I’m not one of your little worshippers.”

 A slow smile spread across her face. “Not yet.”

 The rest of the day was just as weird. It was like the entire school was a Zella Marks fangirl, decked out in blue clothing, following her around like the paparazzi. It would seem more normal if she fit the typical mold of cute popular girl. But cute was not the word to describe Zella. Her face was too horsey, her chin too sparse, her eyes too small and beady to resemble anyone’s standard of beauty. Her sense of fashion was Walmart chic, at best. So what was this bizarre hold she had over everyone?

 The answer occurred to me in the middle of lunch. Cassidy had abandoned me as I was now on the Great Zella’s hate list, so I was sitting alone at one of the outdoor tables, watching a group of guys (and a couple of girls) flirting with Zella.

 “Please go out with me this Friday night,” said one of the boys in a pleading voice. “I’ve got tickets to an Imagine Dragons concert.”

 “Well, I will cook you a five course Italian dinner if you go out with me on Friday,” said another boy.

 I was too shocked to eat my lunch. It was like they had all been brainwashed. Or hypnotized. Or…or…I grasped at ideas. Enchanted. That had to be it. Zella Marks was a bona fide witch. It was a crazy theory, but it was the only thing that could explain all of this. Every single person at Lake Vista High School was spellbound. Except for me, of course.

 I’m not sure why Zella’s witchy ways didn’t work on me. But as the days ticked past, it became obvious that I was immune to whatever kept the others on her leash. I noticed with some satisfaction that my unwillingness to submit to her command caused her some frustration. Since she had no direct power over me, she used the rest of the student body to lash out toward me.

 “Freak,” kids would mutter as I passed in the halls. “Go back to where you came from.” They left nasty messages scrawled on my locker, shoved books out of my hands. My teachers were in on it, too, granting me grades much lower than I deserved, closing their ears when I contested.

 “Adjusting to a new school can be rough at first,” was all my parents would say. Just give it time.” It’s wasn’t like I could tell them my real theory about Zella Marks. They would have me in 72-hour psych evaluation faster than I could say the word witchcraft.

 I would have to get proof.

 That’s why, on a chilly Saturday night, I sneaked onto the Marks’ property. The moon shone full and round, lighting up the grassy field like a helicopter spotlight. I skirted through the shadows past the line of trees, around the edge of a pond, closer and closer to the small house. I wasn’t sure what I was hoping to find – Zella dancing around in the night, throwing toads and newts into a bubbling cauldron?

 A loud sound cut through the silence, and I jumped. But it was only a horse, nickering from a stable a few yards away. I let out my breath, weak with relief.

 Then a voice spoke from behind me. “I knew you would come, Sadie.”

 I whirled around, heart pounding in my throat. There stood Zella. She wasn’t wearing a peaked witch’s hat or carrying a broomstick or anything, but somehow she still looked scary in her too-tight jeans and shapeless t-shirt. Her expression was victorious, like she’d won a bet with someone that I would show up.

 “Now what?” I glared at her, fists clenched. “You drag me off to some ritualistic sacrifice?”

 She guffawed. “You have quite the imagination! I don’t need to sacrifice anybody. I just need you to fall in line.” She stepped closer as she spoke, until she was again invading my space bubble. The moon reflected off her eyes, until it was all I could see as I looked at her. “That’s a lovely necklace.” She reached out and fingered the tiny pendant. Stop! My mind was screaming. Don’t touch that!

 “No,” I said. But my voice was weak. The moon in her eyes grew larger, a bright, mesmerizing light.

“You want to give me that necklace,” she said. Her voice had changed. The words rolled over me like cool waves of water on a warm day. Give her the necklace. It felt so easy, so right to unclasp the chain from my neck and place it in Zella’s outstretched hand. It looked much prettier on her, I realized, as she flashed me a smile and sauntered toward the pond. Tomorrow, I should cut some fresh flowers from my family’s garden to place on her desk. Bluebells. She would like those.

Zella undressed, then began to split open at the seams. Her real skin was smooth and gray, and slick, like a dolphin. As she dove into the pond, flippers splashing against the black surface, I dreamed of Monday morning, and her pleased smile when I wore blue, as she willed it.

 

 

 



 




Fiffer-Feffer-Splunk (aka: Happy World Poetry Day!)

Say-It-With-a-Poem

Today’s a special holiday

observed across the land

a time to honor poetry

the crummy and the grand.

 

Egads! You cry. You rhymed your blog?

Oh dear, such cruelty

to force the world to read your slop

transformed to poetry!

 

Take heart – for only once a year

deserves such accolade

tomorrow, from your memories

these dreadful rhymes will fade

 

(Nature aims to set the mood

with gray and thunderous rain

as though the weather knows it too,

that rhyming is a pain.)

 

I guess I could have skipped the rhymes

and written in haiku

or flowing, esoteric prose

Like Maya Angelou.

 

Or, break the rules like Dr. Seuss

and fill the gaps with junk

like cats in hats and Sam-I-Am

and Fiffer-Feffer-Splunk

 

But genius poet I am not

so my apology

for this experiment

in lame originality.

 

Well, that’s a wrap, it’s time to go

amazing how time flies.

I’d better hustle back to work

and quit this exercise.

 

Now it’s your turn.

Come on…it’s not like you can do much worse.

Let’s honor World Poetry Day

by writing blogs in verse.

poetry talk

Wings (aka: Two Poems on a Winter’s Day)

Ode to a Caterpillar

 

Oh little caterpillar

who brought such color to the world!

How I remember

tiny fingers grasping

heavy Mason glass

swift

ready to catch, to observe

the free ones

the ones with wings

the ones who flew.

So much you learned, as you curled

safe

in your small, loved home

until today

fragile walls tearing loose

open crack of wide, wide blue

cupped in hands

to test new wings.

Oh butterfly

this world is yours.

caterpillar-to-butterfly

 

Night Angels

 

Eyes lifted toward darkened skies

strapped warm in leather womb

hushed voices mingle with

steady drone.

There I see it

flash of copper light

brief sight of wingless angel

flying in the night.

Warm sigh

fingers pressed, cold against glass

until

once more the darkness lifts

and angel glows.

One by one

on tall, steel legs

they dance

across the stars

halos burning in bronze glory

as my lashes droop

beneath watchful eyes.

street-lamps-shining

The Dog Ate My Blog (aka: Lame Excuses)

Okay fine. The dog didn’t eat my blog.

In fact, we don’t even own a dog.

homework

But yes, my blog has been MIA for a couple of weeks. I had this long list of potential lame excuses as to why there haven’t been any new posts.

  • My kids have been hogging the computers. My tablet, too. And my phone.
  • I woke up one morning with blog amnesia. I remembered everything else — just forgot that I had this blog.
  • I joined a professional wiffle ball team, and we had to train for the Wiffle Ball World Series. (Okay, I just found out that that is really a thing).
  • My real parents finally arrived from Jupiter, and I spent three weeks showing them how humans live. I even gave them my copy of Earth (the Book). By the way, if you haven’t read it yet, you are really missing out on a vital part of your anthropology education.
  • just-didnt-do-it-excuses

Then I decided that honesty was the best policy. So I’ll be honest: I hate reading blog posts about why people haven’t been blogging lately. I hate writing about it, too. The truth is that I only have so much creative energy. And it occurred to me that I can spend it all on writing blogs, and writing mediocre poetry, or I can focus it on editing the YA novel I wrote, so that maybe someday, a publisher will want to pay me money for it and turn it into an actual book. But to reach that goal, the novel has to be super-awesome. And to write a super-awesome novel, a writer must learn to focus.

focus-on-the-important-things

Don’t take me wrong. I’m not scrapping my blog so that I can write. I’m just spending a lot less energy making sure that I post new material here every week. That’s lame, I know. But it’s so much better than coming up with lists of excuses about why I still haven’t finished editing the novel.

Like blaming the dog. Which we still don’t have.

Everybody Bakes Chocolate Chip Cookies (aka: Editing)

You have just baked a batch of chocolate chip cookies.

There they rest, golden-brown and delicious, cooling on the counter. Your plan? To give them away — no wait, to sell them for money. But there is a problem.

Everybody bakes chocolate chip cookies.

unoriginal_chocolate_chip_cookies

True, not everyone’s cookies are alike. Some scrap them together with cheap or artificial ingredients. Others drop hunks of pre-made dough onto a cookie sheet and call it a day. And some get it right, following the recipe and adding the perfect measurements of flour, brown sugar, vanilla, and egg. But still.

Everybody bakes chocolate chip cookies.

And if fifty sellers of chocolate chip cookies showed up at your door one day, as they do every day, whose would you buy? Only the best of the best. The true standouts in the bunch. Also, they probably wouldn’t be chocolate chip cookies.

So now that you have worked so long on baking your perfect batch of cookies, what can you do to improve your chances of selling them? Start by cutting out the good parts. Oh come on, everyone knows that the good part of a chocolate chip cookie is the chocolate chips. Take them all out and set them aside.

Done? Good. Now grab a rolling pin, and crush  all the leftover crumbs into tinier crumbs. Next, scoop up two-thirds of those tiny crumbs, and throw them in the trash. You heard right — the trash. As for the remaining crumbs, wet your fingers, and mush them all together into a ball. Pack it tight, like a snowball. Now stand across the kitchen, aim, and toss it toward the trash, too.

There.

All that remains is chocolate chips. The good parts. The yummy, gooey, mouth-watering parts. Place every last chip into a saucepan, turn on the heat, and stir until melted. Pour the melted chocolate into a silicone bowl, and place it in the freezer. Now go and read, or watch TV, or play computer games or whatever. In a few hours, come back and remove the bowl from the freezer, then peel away the silicone.

You have just made a giant chocolate chip.

What? It doesn’t even resemble your original batch of chocolate chip cookies? Good. Because everybody makes chocolate chip cookies. But when it comes down to it, the cookies are overrated. It’s the chocolate that everyone really wants to eat.

chocolate_is_the_best_part

This is why I have not been blogging much lately. You see, I have finished baking a lovely batch of chocolate chip cookies. Only I like to call it a novel. And I’ve been putting lots of work into digging out the “chocolate chips” — the delicious, wonderful parts that everyone will want to read. When at last I have torn apart the original batch (aka: first draft) and turned the whole thing into a mouth-watering written masterpiece, then maybe, just maybe, I will be ready to send it to the cookie critics — um, I mean, editors.

editing_the_novel

It’s getting there. But my kitchen is a mess, and I keep mistaking those dull, dreaded cookie crumbs for true pieces of chocolate. (I once was a member of two critique groups whose purpose was to discern between the two). It takes a lot of work to bake it just right. But I refuse to give up and send the editors yet another Tollhouse batch of words to toss in the slush pile.

Editors love chocolate chips. But they are sick of cookies.

editors in the slushpile

Three Poems on Tuesday

Fragile dawn

All the Things We Cannot Keep

Now I lay me down to sleep

dream of sunshine, little sheep

downy dandelion bed

angels dancing ‘round your head

 

Dawn will break before you know

bathe the world in scarlet glow

one by one the stars they fade

as daylight burns the window shade

 

Time will cut the nursery lock

restless feet must take their walk

leave behind the dusty lap

set your compass, draw your map

 

Garden walls shall not constrain

hold the clouds until they rain

push the wind until it blows

keep the seed until it grows

 

Sunrise pinks and palest blue

crystal drops of early dew

lingering dreams as morning creeps

all the things we cannot keep

all the things we cannot keep.

Words

What do you want from me?

More words?

Fine. Have a seat while I

boil them up

pour them steaming in your cup

then stand back

as you scald your tongue on the hot bitter black

words

Shall I melt them down like sugar

sticky and sweet

a child’s easy treat?

Or can you handle something more?

Yearning and sore

for the flowing passion

of my underground river

swift and changing current

reaching, wanting, hiding beneath the surface

in fear of your thirst?

You think this is what you want, what you need

but you never see

that I bleed

words

and that you are the form of every letter.

beware the girl in red

Beware the Girl in Red

“Go into the wood,” her mama said

then dressed her up in velvet red

placed a pail into her arms

“Beware the wolf. He means you harm.”

 

With tiptoe steps the girl made way

and left behind the light of day

weak and cautious little bird

marched to the tune of Mama’s word

 

Weary after many hours

Little Red noticed the flowers

blooming off the beaten trail

and so she paused to fill her pail.

 

It’s always off the trail, I fear

that clever wolves choose to appear

Sleek as shadows, swift as wind

He blocked her path and sniffed, then grinned

 

“Sweet and delicate little rose,”

He purred as the child froze

“Don’t you worry. What’s your haste?

I only want a little taste.”

 

Through the brambled wood she fled

But was no match for Wolfie’s tread

He swallowed her scream, devoured her cry

Then lifted his howl to the sky

 

He laid the girl beneath a tree

and shook his head in sympathy

“There’s one like me in every story

You wandered in my territory.

 

“All alone, a tempting treat

Juicy apple, red and sweet.

Beware the wolf – you should have known

Foolish child on your own.”

 

As he left her, Little Red

yanked the red cape from her head.

No more rank humiliation!

No more victim of predation!

 

With weapons fashioned from the tree

she sat and waited patiently.

As wolves strolled by, she took her aim

then made a fur coat of her game.

 

Soon wolf mamas warned their sons

“Heed my warning, little one

for many a wolf has lost his head.

You must beware the Girl in Red.”