Weekly Writing Challenge: (Changes) In An Instagram
It was 2011 – the year of the Arab spring. Not a day passed without more news of protest, blood, violence, intervention, sweat, war, censorship, and occasionally even: hope. A friend of mine was about to board a plane to Egypt. She was going to spend a year in the middle of all the chaos studying Arabic and trying to stay alive. Unlike people born, raised and suppressed in the Middle East, she had the luxury of choosing whether or not to face the turmoil. She was aware of this and it’s probably why she didn’t back out in the end. This isn’t about politics, though. Not about injustice. It’s simply about someone’s life changing.
We were standing in the kitchen, snacking on left-overs, a bag of chips and a small container of peanut butter with chocolate chips that we’d just bought at Whole Foods. College dinner.
“Do you think they’ll let you go?” I asked her.
We were both on spring break and I was visiting her for a couple of days.
“There’s so much going on right now.”
She shrugged. “I keep checking the news – so far, I don’t know. I really wanna go, though. It seems to be the place I should be right now…”
I reached for a chip and we were quiet for a while.
I was about to board a plane, too. I wasn’t headed for a conflict area (unless that’s a term you’d apply to the European Union; I guess, some people would). After studying abroad for a year, I was going home – whatever that means. I wasn’t sure then, I’m not sure now. I stood at the check-in, hoping several things: that I still had enough money in my account to pay for my extra suitcase, that my entire luggage wasn’t overweight (obesity is a serious problem among luggage of all sorts, people should be much more aware of it), and that they wouldn’t have me check in my guitar so it wouldn’t get smashed by potentially overweight suitcases somewhere along the way. Thankfully, all this hoping kept me too busy to fully realize that I was just handing over my life (that I’d managed to stuff into two large bags and a bag pack, god knows how) to the well-dressed lady behind the desk in front of me. So I stood there, smiling blankly, watching my life disappear behind her. I might have seen one of my friends cry from the corner of my eye but I successfully ignored it, even as I went to say my good-byes.
“Do you think you’ll come back?” she asked into the silence. We had quietly moved over to the sofa in the living room.
It was my turn to shrug. “I would really like to…I don’t know, either. Let’s hope so.”
People always talk of hope when there’s nothing else to hold on to. It’s usually about the time they rediscover belief and prayer.
She looked at me: “You should try.”
I looked at my hands: “We should try.”
And we sort of hoped together.
I was probably the only person on the plane that wasn’t relieved when we landed. I didn’t applaud the pilot. I usually don’t because it really makes me feel silly. That day I didn’t because it really made me feel all sorts of things. As I waited in line to have my passport checked I simply started crying. Someone asked me whether I was playing the Cello, pointing to the guitar on my back, entirely ignoring the fact I stood there sobbing as if someone had just abducted my child or my puppy or even worse: both, and that I was just two breaths per second short of hyperventilating. People never cease to amaze me, and not always in a good way. “It’s a guitar” I mumbled while cleaning my glasses and double-checking whether I could see things in full color to make sure I hadn’t just landed in the middle of a Marx Brothers movie. Unfortunately, I hadn’t. I stood, in fact, in the middle of plain, old reality: close to broke and about to move back in with my parents, at least for a while. A seven-hour flight can certainly change things.
My friend had to spend the summer waiting for news. News of protest, blood, violence, intervention, sweat, war, censorship, and occasionally even: hope. News of the program that sponsored her studies.
Eventually, she e-mailed me “I’m going to Egypt in fall!”
I e-mailed her back: “Come visit then – I’m half-way home for you!”
Although I still felt uncomfortable with the term home.
I spent my summer waiting, too. Waiting to feel — real.
I subscribed to the New York Times newsletter to stay updated with the situation in the Middle East. To make sure my friend was studying Arabic and staying alive at the same time. And because I was looking for something — real.
I also got a side job: to occupy me until classes would start, and even more important, to earn some money. So I worked. I bought a ukulele. My grandmother passed away. I wrote a couple of songs. I went to my grandmother’s funeral and squeezed my mother’s elbow. I moved into a small apartment. Fall came and I still found myself cleaning my glasses from time to time, double-checking whether I could see things in full color. Just to make sure I wasn’t part of a movie. Unfortunately, I wasn’t. Only sometimes, it still felt like it. And I wondered what could possibly change that.
(in response to the weekly writing challenge)
William felt their tiny hands, warm and sticky, clutching his own – one on his left, the other one on his right (nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands, Edward whispers into the sky). They were waiting for William’s sister to come and pick them up. She was never on time. They knew as much and they loved her (her big laugh, her exaggerated demeanor, the way she winked and squeezed one’s shoulder) so they usually didn’t mind. That day, however, when she finally arrived 15 minutes late, William snapped at her and no one said a word during the drive. His sister and her husband sat up front, he sat in the back of the car with the children. They were still squeezing his hands.
Emma, the younger one, had always been very attached to her father: when he left for work, she’d cling to his coat until he stepped out of the house and when he came home, she’d greet him with an impatient hug at the front door, no matter how late. She refused to go to bed unless he tucked her in, unless he stroked her hair until she fell asleep: eyes closed, breathing calmly, steadily – a metronome’s breath. She had gotten more and more difficult the last couple of months. Every night as he was about to get up from her bedside, she grasped his hand – much like she did now – and commanded him to stay. Just a couple more minutes. Or maybe until the grandfather clock struck again. Or maybe until it was bedtime for Mason too. Or even better yet: until the next morning. Often she woke up in the middle of the night, find him gone, and scream and cry until he came back into her room with the promise not to leave.
It was a bright and clear morning. The three of them had been up early: washing their faces, brushing their teeth, combing their hair, having breakfast (trying not to spill anything because they were wearing their good clothes). They seemed to be in an awful rush. They thought, maybe, if they went faster, the day would go by faster as well. Yet, of course, it didn’t. It turned out to be one of the longest days they’ve ever had (even longer than the day before your birthday, even longer than New Year’s). Emma and Mason were sure if they let go of their father’s hands, it would never end.
Mason’s hand felt strange – he was not like his sister at all. Not only because he was older, not even because he was a boy. In fact, he was much like his mother: collected and cool, too proud (or too timid) to show any sign of emotion (she’d even refused to call him Will instead of William – whimsical nonsense, she’d said, I’ll call you by the name your parents carefully picked out for you, by nothing else). Although he, too, craved his father’s attention. He was always looking for ways to impress him: bringing home good grades, showing interest in the same things he was interested in (politics, Dizzy Gillespie, car races, Russian novels, E.E. Cummings). Now, however, his small fingers (he was the older one of the two children, but in the end, he was only 11) were so tightly wrapped around his. His mouth was dry and he thought he could feel his son’s hand tremble. Then he realized that it must be his own. Actually, that it must be nothing but her trembling that’s slowly become his as he held her hand night after day after night after day – until there was no more hand to hold, just the blood-stained handkerchief with the small embroidery in the upper right corner: Sophie (nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands, Edward mutters under his breath).
When they arrived at the cemetery, there was already a small gathering of people. Some of them had to make an effort not to look too upset. Others tried to make an effort to look somewhat saddened. Most of them nodded at the family pitifully. They shook their heads behind William’s back (how was he going to raise the children on his own? his sister, surely, can’t be of any help. the neighbors heard her cough so loudly, they knew it wasn’t going to be much longer) because they couldn’t shake his hand (because still, one was holding Emma’s, the other one was holding Mason’s).
The night Sophie died, he found himself in the living room all of a sudden. He couldn’t really remember how he’d gotten there or what he’d meant to do. The entire night was a blur: coughs, doctors, the smell of morphine, condolences (hushed: don’t wake the children), helplessness, darknesses (in all shades of night). He rubbed his eyes and sat down in the big, red wingback chair. He tried to think and quickly decided to try and not think instead (think of her). He reached for his pipe that lay on the end table to his right, filled and lit it. He sat there an hour or two, smoking, not thinking (or trying not to), gazing at the rocking chair on the other side of the room that still held the two balls of wool and the knitting needles she’d left there (socks for Emma and a hat for Mason). When it was 3am Emma woke up as usually and called for him. He’d left her bedroom door open so he would hear her: a voice, high and distant as a cloud, echoing in the hallway. As he was about to leave the room, he paused and leaned against the doorframe. He glanced at the unfinished hat and the one sock in the rocking chair another time and pictured her porcelain hands, knitting through the nights (when she couldn’t sleep). He’d fallen for her hands the first time he’d seen them (nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands, Edward says in a woman’s voice, forever echoing in the hallway).
188 days and nothing has changed except for the colors – they’ve gotten deeper and darker.
It’s so early, you can’t even call it morning yet. I fumble about in the darkness trying to make my way from bedroom to kitchen without bumping into any sharp-edged pieces of furniture or slipping on and/or tripping over one of the not so well placed power cords.
The kitchen is kind of small but has a big window on one side that really makes you forget just how small it is. I open it and breathe in the cool morning air. I love the fall: the colors, the smell, Halloween, pumpkin soup – a breath of: candy apples, the first hints of chimney smoke, another deep breath: colorsthesmellcandyapplesjackolanterns. I gaze out the window for a while as I’m waiting for the water in the tea kettle to boil.
I hardly ever catch a sunrise in the morning. Today, however, I’m standing in the kitchen to watch the sky change color from a misty gray to a freakishly bright orange that sort of reminds me of Cheetos and also of pumpkin soup and Halloween (it’s mid-October already), sort of, and of a t-shirt you used to wear back when it was still summer and warm outside, sort of.
Roses are red, violets are blue, it says. But these days roses come in all sorts of different colors (ranging from yellow to universe black, striped, polka-dotted, leopard, zebra, whatever) and once September’s passed, flowers don’t have any color anymore. Not really, they freeze, that’s all, it’s not a secret. Roses are red, violets are blue. Blue and tacky.
And then another thing, red and blue (and violet in the end): at first, you can’t really see anything at all, it starts off slightly red. It turns blue quickly – and it stays like that for a while. In the end, though, it changes to a deep dark shade of violet, like grape jelly or Kool-Aid, maybe. Until, eventually, it heals. Eventually. Hopefully.
He (Daniel) is so small, it’s almost funny but mostly, he’s quite amazing. His little hands, with the little fingers, and the webbing between the second and third that makes him even more amazing. His eyes, though, are the best part: they’re enormous and bright and ink blue or lead grey depending on the time of day (maybe because the way the light changes or maybe depending on his mood because that’s how it works with a ring someone bought me a long time ago on a fair).
While my sister holds him, though, they are completely closed: he is asleep, finally. My sister’s face is all red. She’s been holding him for a while, a tiny cherry pit pillow on top of the two of them to calm down his nervous stomach. Her husband’s been looking at them the entire time. He’s been an engineer for a couple of years now but he’s never created anything quite like that before. His face is all red too. Red as the toy fire truck in the corner of the room.
It’s dark out. It gets dark so early these days. There’s always one day at the end of September or beginning of October when it suddenly hits me: the days are getting shorter, at the end of the day there’s more darkness than light – you should stock up on candles.
Candles to brighten the room (in case you should forget to pay your electricity bill), candles to stick into a carved out pumpkin and candles to put on a cake: it’s my birthday in fall and since this year, it’s my nephew’s too. It also used to be my grandmother’s birthseason, until last year. I suppose, though, it still is – birthdays don’t expire (think of Christmas, but that’s for another season). I light a candle for her on the 11th (I stocked up) – it’s blue. Like the day. But I hold the candle as it’s burning and it’s warm in my hand and it, sort of, reminds me of summer when it wasn’t so cold out yet, sort of.
188 days and nothing has changed except for the colors – they’ve gotten deeper and darker.
I was born on a Saturday. Twenty minutes to midnight I came: no beautiful dress to show off, just one of the smooth glass slippers, the left one. Old spells seem to wear out much quicker these days. Even on your birthday. Old superstitions, however, never do: my mother always says she would have wanted me to be born on a Sunday. If only you could have taken these extra minutes, she’d say, you’d have been born a Sunday’s child – born under a lucky star, as they say. Maybe then, things would have been a little different, she thinks (and sometimes my mother must have wished for things to be different). That’s probably what she’s really wanted, for a long time (but there’s no spell, not even an old one, that can turn back time) – you just never understand these things when you’re younger. On the other hand, maybe things wouldn’t have been that different after all – but who knows? (I don’t.) Probably a lot of babies were born that Sunday, and possibly, all of them lucky– but again, who knows? (No one does.)
Written in the Stars.
I’m quite sure, though, that all the babies born on the Monday after, they were born under a revolutionary star – born under a night sky lit up by candles, torches, lanterns; born to the sound of raised voices; born to the smell of autumn; born to the bittersweet taste of frustration paired with anticipation. Every time my mother sees a shooting star and wishes I was born on a Sunday, I close my eyes and wish I was born on a Monday – I would like to be a Monday’s child. I would raise my candle, torch, lantern and leave a mark: a dab of light, like a tiny hole in the dark sheet that covers the earth at night. There’s more to life than simple luck; more than old spells that wear out even before the clock strikes twelve, more than old superstitions that leave you hanging on to things that could have been. You can’t change the past, but maybe, if you try, you can change the future.
Sometimes, in the short moment before falling asleep, I feel the light of candles, torches and lanterns warm on my skin; I hear people chanting; I can smell fallen leaves and I’m overcome by a sullen feeling, quickly followed by a feeling of hope. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t feel restless. It’s nothing I could ever explain, it’s just something that is. If I had to try to find words for it, I might simply say that I’m a child of my times. We all are.
Hearts and Cages.
Even now, the idea seems so strange, so unnatural, that I can’t wrap my head around it. No matter how hard I try. No matter how often I try. Sometimes I look at a map and trace the borderline with my index finger. With my scalpel, I cut through a city, an entire country – I become a surgeon. I take out half a nation’s heart (pincers!), just like that (swab!), and it’s bleeding all over me. Desperate people behave in ways that scare me. They get that frantic look in their eyes that always reminds me of a caged animal. And maybe that’s what they are: caged. Trapped in their despair.
We’re all people. We’re all in this together. We’re all created equal. But then: How could anyone be so mean (cruel)? How could anyone be so indifferent (inhumane)? How do you sell an entire country for a breadcrumb’s worth of power? How do you barter with millions and millions of people’s fate? Everything’s going to be okay, they said. In the end. They’re all liars; or blind and dumb and deaf. Or all of that. The upside : They’re also solidary like nothing else: you didn’t even have to kill yourself – it was done for you (working men of all countries unite. Unite, unite, unite. Shoot, shoot, shoot.). Once there was a man. He looked at the grey concrete, the barbed wire and the men with their nice uniforms and polished guns and he realized: you have to run. For freedom. Whether you’ll make it or not – you’ll be free, everything’s going to be okay, in the end.
I don’t know whether my mother was truly happy about the fall of the wall. I once asked her if she remembered what she’d done the night people were dancing on it, if she’d been dancing as well. I probably changed your diapers, she’d said, and that was that. My mother never was the dancing type – but maybe not because she didn’t want to dance, I often think the world just wouldn’t let her.
The sudden feeling of liberation might have been too much to handle for some – as anything that comes down on you so unexpectedly and overwhelming. The wall came falling down in front of their feet and then the ground fell out from underneath them. Maybe it was that feeling that scared away my father. Or maybe he was just high on freedom and so he went to find some more, another fix. And I don’t think anyone could have held him back, not with any luck of the world.
Shake it out. Seriously: Shake – it – out…
I’m sitting here, a glass of wine in my right hand (because it usually helps me to talk a lot more than I normally would and maybe, the same goes for writing?), waiting for inspiration to strike me – like lightning, or at least, like a tiny spark.
I’m sitting here, fairly uninspired.
Last night, I did manage to get a start on what bears the potential to become a fully-grown and respectable story. And yet. It already has a fair amount of brothers and sisters huddled in drawers, crouched together in notebooks, sitting and waiting in long-forgotten files on my laptop: none of them ever made it past the literary toddler-stage.
There must be something in the air that constantly stunts their growth – maybe the occasional incense I light, or maybe there’s asbestos within the walls of my apartment, or maybe an old case of writer’s block, drawn-out.
Still, I’m sitting here, fairly uninspired.
Story Beginning, Pt. I:
She closed the book, placed it on the table, and finally, decided to walk through the door.
It was early, merely dawn. The sun hadn’t had its morning coffee yet and was stumbling across the sky, still half-asleep. Much like her.
She didn’t even know what time it was. She had been awake for hours, flipping through pages, pages and pages. Running her fingers over every single word, every single letter in the book. Breathing them.
She’d taken them all in, had almost choked on them. It was his handwriting.
Now, she knew all of it by heart. And yet. She just really wanted to know him. Understand him. Understand it all.
March 23, 2012 in the upper right corner. Then: Mary. Then: Mary. Mary. Mary. Mary. Mary. Mary Mary Mary Mary Mary Mary Marymarymarymarymary.
Because there wasn’t another day, not for him.
I’m sitting here, a glass of wine in my right hand (three or four sips emptier than before), waiting. Maybe not even for inspiration. Maybe, I’m just waiting.
I’m waiting, inspiration?
I opened a window to air out the past days’ heat that’s collected in the small room, gotten stale; some of the past days’ memories that have collected in the window curtains like cigarette smoke (I am sorry; Don’t apologize; I am truly sorry; I know; I am sorry things are so complicated; So am I…).
I’m waiting, inspiration?
Story Beginning, Pt. II
“Why is the sky so big?” His question came out of nowhere, like always.
A minute ago he had been busy biting off the crust of his peanut butter sandwich. Now, he was looking at her through his thick-framed glasses (the ones she didn’t want to buy him because they made him look uncomfortably grown-up – but he had insisted).
She tried to think of an answer that would make sense to him, like always.
Usually, she couldn’t come up with anything that seemed reasonable enough to him. Scientific enough. Once, she had tried to put on her favorite high school teacher’s tone – simply to sound scientific. She really tried. She wanted to explain the world to him. Yet mostly, she couldn’t. She knew that. Mostly, the world was too complicated for her to understand, let alone explain it to anyone else. One day, she hoped, he would be the one to explain things to her.
“Or do you think we are just so small?” He was still looking at her. Crumbles of toast and smears of peanut butter stuck to his mouth and tiny fingers.
“That’s probably it, Coop” she said. She smiled and kissed him on the cheek.
Still, I’m sitting here, fairly uninspired.
I’m waiting, inspiration?
Still, I’m waiting, fairly uninspired.
I’m sitting here, inspiration?
Story Beginning, Pt. III
She’s standing at the edge, bent forward a little. Her thin, white dress is fluttering in the wind: one moment it rests calmly on her legs, like a second skin almost, entirely covering the pink scar on her left knee; the next moment it shoots up into the sky, maybe wanting to cover up other scars (ones that are not pink but black or some dark shade of blue or purple); scars that lie way beyond her left knee, beyond anything really.
She’s standing at the edge, bent backwards a little. Her smooth, brown hair is fluttering in the wind: curls are flying through the air, like migrating birds – always headed South, South, and further South…
She’s squatting. Her hands feel their way along the two ropes they’ve been gripping tightly for the past several minutes (maybe hours). She’s sweating. It’s October, but unusually hot – the summer has melted in its own heat and oozed into the cracks of fall, sweet and sticky, like syrup (maple).
The swing creaks as she’s moving: backwards, forwards; forwards, backwards.
I’m sitting here, a glass of wine in my right hand (it doesn’t help to loosen my tongue, it just make it numb, which is just as good, at least for tonight), waiting. I’m here she says, I’ve been here all along – you just didn’t want to see me, her voice sounds unusually high, accusingly. I know, I do know. I try to reassure here. I’ve been here all along (a pair of eyes; grey, almost blue). You just didn’t want to see me (I couldn’t bear it; I already feel you all the time — I can’t feel any more).
I’m sitting here, not waiting but wondering. I wonder, now that inspiration has found me, what I am going to do with it.
We always claim that it is inspiration we need. And yet. Inspiration is not like an invisible friend that whispers stories into your ear and keeps your nights from being too lonely, too dark. Sometimes, it’s an invisible friend that pushes you into the lonely darkness (a pair of eyes; grey, almost blue), makes you dive in deep in order to find the stories that are hiding at the very bottom of it.
I’m sitting here, slowly finishing my wine. I’m here she says, I’ve been here all along.
I) January, 8 – in prose…
The New Year (capitalized, to show it’s genuine importance!) is already a week old by now and therefore slowly taking off all the holiday make-up and fancy clothing – a very un-magical moment. It’s always a moment that leaves me missing things: all the Christmas lights, the smell of cinnamon and the anticipation in the air. Because, of course, by that time I’ve already pushed aside the rush and grumpiness of the few days before Christmas, along with the exhaustion of the let’s-visit-the-entire-family-and-all-of-our-friends-in-less-than-24-hours-marathon (while, year after year, thinking: how sweet it would be to catch a ride on Santa’s sleigh). However, what is even worse is the feeling when there’s someone you can’t visit, for whatever reason. Then, the missing hits in early – an even less magical feeling. The least magical I can imagine.
This Christmas season, the missing did hit me quite early, it just snuck up on me behind my back and suddenly there it was, rearing its ugly head out of a pile of Christmas wrappings. It’s been living with me ever since. I don’t mean to complain, I’ve been wanting a roommate since I moved into a new apartment last summer (but I’d really prefer someone less sneaky, Santa must have gotten me wrong there…) leaving behind three roommates (a school, a city, a country) in the process – coming back to what I’d left behind a year earlier to find that I couldn’t have it all back, not the way it was. Of course, you never can – but, of course, you always hope.
I think, it might have been already then, that this idiotic thing moved in with me, hiding in my luggage – the little parasite. Or maybe, I brought it with me from my holiday visit to one of my beloved roommates a few days ago. Anyhow, I’m planning to kick it out soon. I think, it has to go with the decorations and the last bits of candy (ha! I ate the last cookie this morning!). It’s really a poor replacement for all I’ve left behind.
II) January, 8 – in poetry…
I know: it comes like breathing – unconsciously and delicate.
An inflating and deflating, rhythmical, in four-four time almost:
Say, is it dancing, can you feel your heart dancing?
You know, it’s the dance of death, or at least
the dance of coma – a deep delusional sleep:
you’re only imagining things, always.
It’s tiring, truly exhausting – and there’s nothing that can be done.
I’m afraid it’s not a mood, it doesn’t come and go like seasons do.
It’s a state, it’s something chronic – the diagnosis?
Well, it’s not yearning, it’s less dramatic; nothing emotional, I think.
It’s quiet like falling snow and just as cold and it
also muffles all the noise coming in from the world outside:
You must be missing
III), January, 8 – in song (thank you, Miss Madeline Ava)…