Saturday, March 12, 2011

Every Day is Christmas

Every morning, I slip out of bed and wander downstairs to my office to see what treasures the writing angel has left for me in my email. Sometimes they arrive the night before and I'm careful not to peek, lest I spoil the morning's surprise.

I set down my glass of juice, prop up my feet on my desk and open my laptop with the joy and enthusiasm that accompanies certainty of great expectations. I click my mailbox labeled Jenny scan to the top for the latest arrival and embark on ten minutes of pure satisfaction. Ten minutes that set the tone for the rest of my day.

Over the past few years I've come to enjoy and appreciate writing. However, since we began our weekly writing jams, I've grown a passion for it, and dare I say a dependence? It's not an alcohol or drug type of dependence, it's more of a sun-rising, earth-turning, heart-beating type of dependence. Writing has become part who I am, and I have become a writer.

I noticed a bit of hesitation as I wrote "I have become a writer"; It's one founded in old beliefs that to declare oneself something, one must have achieved a certain level of skill an have been recognized by an officially sanctioned group. When it comes to writing, I have neither of those. Still, I have a passion for writing, one that makes it hard to sleep in, one that makes it easy to get up. So, to be more clear, I have become a self-certified writer with no official sanction and it's awesome, man.

This morning, I decided to share a couple of my ten-minute expositions with you.

The writing prompt: A few hours after my birth...

A few hours after my birth, the muscles of my pylorus, the valve that controls the opening between the stomach and the small intestine, started thickening. Anyone observing me wouldn't have seen it. It wouldn't have shown up on a scope. It was nothing that I would have noticed. In the grand scheme of recent events, it was for me a relatively small one. And yet the change was significant, one that would become a matter of life or death in the weeks that followed.

But for the moment, I was just another healthy baby boy in the maternity ward at Englewood Hospital (that's Englewood, New Jersey).

My dad and mom had met in the summer of 1953, while living at the International House on Riverside Drive. My dad, a Finn who had immigrated to the US in 1946, was working a summer internship at Bell Laboratories. My mom, a southern bell whose family immigrated to the US in 1607, was studying music at Columbia. She'd decided to dorm at the International house because 80 percent of the residents were from outside the US. My dad on the other hand had decided to dorm there because 80% of the residents were from outside the US. He was in grad school at MIT studying electrical engineering and unless you could divide, multiply, add or subtract it, well, let's just say that social interaction was not his strong suit.

One night my mom was heading out the door to get some pizza when a friend grabbed her hand and said, "C'mon Betty, we're going to a party!"

Growing up in a mill town in rural South Carolina, my mom had only heard of pizza and after arriving in New York, it had quickly become her favorite meal. She cordially declined the invitation and proceeded to leave, but her friend said, "Betty, you've got to come; there's someone I want you to meet. He's dark, handsome and european and he even speaks with an accent."

Reluctantly, my mom abandoned her dinner plans and joined her friend.

They say opposites attract. If so, then there was no force known to man that would have kept my mom and dad apart. The singer and the engineer, the prom queen and the nerd, the performer and the voyeur, the American wanting to be come more worldly and the European wanting to become more American.

They talked the evening away. The dated. They fell in love.

At the end of the summer, my mom returned to South Carolina, to teach and my dad to MIT to study. It wasn't long before he decided to settle on a master's degree and walk away from his PhD scholarship. He was in love.

They married in November, 1955 and just 17 months later, April 11, 1957, my mom gave birth to her first child, a son who at just a few hours old had only weeks to live.

The Writing Prompt: The last time

This is the last time that I'm doing this for you. I know. I know. I say that every time, but this time is different. This time I really mean.

Sure you do, Ma. Sure.

There you go again. Making fun of me like I'm some kind of retard like that William you're always hanging out with. And maybe I am a bit slow to act, but it's not because I'm stupid. It's because I'm a mother, and mothers do things for their children, even when everyone else has given up on them.
You just never really appreciated that and I don't know how to explain it.

I know ma, you're doing it because it's genetic or something. Nothing you can about it. You see your poor boy in a fix and you gotta help him. Even if you said before that you never would. Even if you said it a thousand times. Pardon me if I don't believe you.

Well you should. You should believe me damn-it. What are you gonna do when there's no one there to bail you out. You'll see.

Sure, Ma, I'll see. In he mean time, would you mind wondering up front to the desk there and pay the fine so that we can get the hell out here. I've got people waiting for me, and as much as I'm enjoying our little dialog here, shit, can't beat the ambiance of a municipal lockup, I've got an appointment with a Mr. Bud Wiser that I'm dying to get to.

Sigh… Alright Logan. You could at least show me a bit of courtesy seeing as none of your friends or Mr Bud Wiser cared enough to come down here and pay your fine. Lord, I don't know why I keep doing this.

Sure you do, Ma. It's because you're a mother and that's how the good lord made you. You can help yourself. You're just a victim of God's creation.

Logan, if you don't start showing me a little more respect, I'm gonna…

You're gonna what?

I'm gonna… I'm gonna march right out the front door and forget that you're here. I'm going drive home and unplug the phone. No, I'm not. I'm going to drive downtown and find a late night show of that new movie everyone's talking about, the one with the king stuttering and all. I'm gonna buy a big bag of pop-corn and large diet Coke, and I'm gonna watch that movie, and I'm going to enjoy it.

Sure you are, Ma. Now stop your whining and go pay the man so that I can get out of here.

Oooooh… I can't believe this. I'm here. I'm the only one here. Can't you show me at least a little bit of respect.

Ma, the clocks ticking.

The Writing Prompt: Something you weren't supposed to know

He open his eyes and felt the cold sterile surface of vinyl laminate pressing against his ear and the side of his head, interrupted only by the wedge created by the plastic frame of his glasses his reading glasses. Trying to focus, he followed the line of his outstretched arm to his left hand, that rested on a lab book but still clung tightly to his mechanical pencil.

The light was wrong. It was too bright.

After the funding cutbacks, building maintenance had removed every other bulb from the rectangular fluorescent lighting fixtures that tic-tac-toed across the lab's suspended ceiling. One of the researchers had attempted to make a joke of it, saying, "Well, that was a half-assed move!", and then looking around at the blank stares he'd received from the rest of the team, said, "Don't you get it? Now that we have half the lighting, we'll work half as fast."

Everyone had groaned.

Like a crane straining against the weight of an overloaded pallet, his lower back muscles struggled to lift his upper body away from his work table. Tiny aches and pains emanated from the epicenter at the small of his back flowing like fissures through a penetrated plate of safety glass, becoming smaller and smaller as they reached extremities of his fingers and toes. Sitting more or less erect, he noticed that the source of the light was not overhead, but instead, the foot-high glass windows that ran along one of the interior walls that separated the labs.

Unlike the stark-white of the lab lighting, this light was warm and golden.

What time is it?

In one quick motion, he pulled his Droid phone from the right front pocket of his jeans, smoothly toggling the screen lock with his thumb, registered 4:30AM and then slid it back into place.

No one is supposed to be here. No one is ever hear at four in the morning. Shit, no one is ever here after six PM.

Avoiding the distraction of things visual, he closed is eyes to think, to ponder what could be going on in the lab next door. Was it break-in? Was it a fire? Was it…

In the absence of visual stimuli, his ears began to focus. He could hear people talking, talking excitedly. At least three, maybe four voices.

He opened his eyes to find that he'd already been moving toward the sound. He pressed his ear against the army green cinder-block wall that was now just a foot or so in front of him.

"I tell you, it's getting too hot. If you run it any faster, it's either going to fail or it's going to blow up."

"You don't know what you're talking about. I've run the calculations twenty times and I've gone through everything that Davison wrote in his notes. We could double the voltage and it would still be fine."

"Yeah, I remember you saying something like that the last time. I'm telling you, we gotta slow this down. There could be hell to pay if we screw this up."

"Would you two stop arguing and pay attention to what we're doing here. I swear, it looks like a second beam is forming in the center of the first. Do you see it."

The room went quiet for a few moments and then, "Shit, you're right. What the hell is that? It's smaller than the first, but it's getting brighter, so bright that the first one looks dull by comparison."

What were they doing? He sidled over to a workbench that butted against the wall, hoisted himself up and then turned to stand.

Pressing both hands against the cinder blocks, he slowly lifted his head to the window. And then, with what he presumed to be an unreasonable sense of fear and apprehension, he lifted his eyes to peer through the glass, knowing almost immediately that doing so had been a mistake.

Happy Saturday,


  1. Tef: Is there any way your wonderful writing coach could be convinced to occasionally share some of her precepts on this blog, for the benefit of those readers regretfully unable to participate in person? Failing that, would you be willing to pass on some nuggets for us?

  2. Sree,
    I think that would be a great idea! I will relay your request.

    I'll also share some of the tidbits that have become my golden nuggets. I think that writing may be even better than juicing when it comes to attitude and health.



Read, smile, think and post a message to let us know how this article inspired you...