“We’re all gonna die!”

Today’s Slice of Life at TwoWritingTeachers.org 15 June 2021

We had just been married a few weeks. Keith was on a camping trip with the youth group. On Friday morning, my only day off of the campout, I drove the two-hour trip to enjoy the day with them at the state park.

It had rained the night before, and everything was damp. We spent part of the day dealing with wet camping gear, but also swimming, hiking and other fun.

When dinner time approached, my husband tried to start a campfire for the hotdogs and s’mores. He had a metal can of Kingsford Charcoal Lighter Fluid, the kind you squeeze onto the wood. He tried to start a fire with this damp wood and kindling, throwing matches on that would not fully catch on fire. He doused it some more, then threw another match.

The lit match-squirt pattern continued until finally the fire took hold and shot up during the squirt phase. Our previously non-existent fire leapt from the ground up to become a flame thrower’s masterpiece–a flaming river flowing up from the ground. He instinctively threw the flaming bottle up and out of his hand. “We’re all gonna die!” he yelled. In that split second he pictured the metal can had sucked the fire into the fuel and became a bomb ready to explode (as we had seen on recent news warnings).

Being the brave fool I was, I grabbed not a handful of dirt, but someone’s sleeping bag that had been drying on a makeshift clothesline. I smothered the fire, which had spread out of the fire ring.

I don’t recall where or if it was spreading really; it was damp there in this forest and obviously not a fire tinder box ready to create a forest fire. Fortunately the charcoal fluid bomb fizzled, but the scorched and ruined sleeping bag now needed to be replaced. So, instead of sitting around the campfire, I drove to Target in the nearest town and bought a new sleeping bag so the teenager could sleep that night.

Fast forward 38 years. Last week was our anniversary, and we reminisced about some early memories, this one included. At the time he yelled “We’re all gonna die!” I wondered what I had gotten myself into. He may have wondered about me too.

Today Keith is known in meetings and groups as the non-anxious presence–a wise leader, looked to for surety and strength.

It’s good to not look too soon for the final person another will become–this wisdom is not just for children, but for partners, as well. Thanks be to God that we have hung onto each other through all kinds of exposing behaviors, and I am so grateful.

Image by LUM3N from Pixabay

Inspiration today was from The Isolation Journals, Prompt 151, by Ashley C. Ford taken from a portion of her memoir Somebody’s Daughter, which is a beautiful memoir and this month’s Book Club Pick.

“Think of a memory related to fire. How did it impact you then? What meaning do you forge from it now?”

Oops!

My writing practice has been sporadic and lacking commitment my whole life. One possible culprit, which I look at as an  “Oops!” is when I destroyed a few years worth of my journals early in my twenties.

Why?

I was embarrassed someone would read them. I’m not sure anyone would have been patient enough to read through the drivel, but I was scared they would.

Now, I look back and think I would like to read them again, especially after so many more life experiences.

Back when they were written, I was a new Christian and dating and breaking up with my future husband. I would have never believed a few years later he was going to turn out to be my husband of 38 years and counting.

Now, I would like to see what I wrote about him.

That probably started my semi-unexamined life’s journey. Of course, my life has been well worth living. It’s been a delightful journey. I believe I have grown and developed through many of my mistakes, but I do wish I had kept more journal entries.

I have continued to toss out occasional journals over the years since, but a few writing successes along the way include:

  • I journaled during my pregnancies and the first year of both my daughter’s lives. As the children grew, though, I wrote less in their journals. When I was a mother of young children, and then later when I became a full-time teacher and mother to school-age children, I did not take much time to write. The stresses of life and exhaustion kept me from the page.
  • For the past eleven years, I have used, very sporadically the website 750Words.com. I have written nearly a quarter of a million words–237,845, to be exact. That is not that many over eleven years, but there is some truth there.  I just went to the page after being away for a year and half, and I downloaded the entries I made. Much drivel, to be sure. However, I stumbled upon one gut-punch entry about a nightmare I had, but how it turned out to shed light on how I had hurt one of my students. Now, I had not remembered the dream or the pain I had caused that child, but reading it took me back and makes me want to be better. That’s some examination I need more of.
  • The third success is that since Covid came, I kept a book of journal entries and daily jots in my weekly planner. I felt like it would be good to capture this pandemic as it was happening day-by-day. I also created a Covid-19 time capsule with my students last spring. I interviewed my children and had my husband write a letter to me.
  • Finally, I have been a fairly consistent blogger, which has helped me to write, record, examine, and develop my writing over the past twelve years. In addition, it has helped me to develop friendships with people all over the world who are also writing about learning, life, and education. Blogging led me to meet Gallit Zvi, and we wrote The Genius Hour Guidebook together, so that was fun. Lately I’ve been writing poetry with the Ethical ELA and Poetry Friday communities, the Slice of Life on Tuesdays, and now here is the Sharing Our Stories Magic group I just discovered too.

I’m joining an open community of writers over at Sharing Our Stories: Magic in a Blog. If you write (or want to write) just for the magic of it, consider this your invitation to join us. #sosmagic

This post is inspired by Connor Toomey’s prompt on The Isolation Journals: “What interrupts your writing practice? What keeps you from the page?”

Remember What it Was to be Me

Journeying

The inspiration for today’s poem is from a quote in the Isolation Journals Prompt #121 (from last December). Of her reason for keeping a notebook, Joan Didion writes, “Remember what it was to be me: that is always the point.”

Anger Cloud

I remember when I was so angry
I saw only darkness–
the light emptied from my eyes.
I refused to back out of an argument;
I had to win it.
Fear had deep roots in me
and it spoke with the voice of
backed-into-a-corner rage.

But then Love knocked
on my door.
It seized me softly,
cradled me solidly,
and held my fear-turned-anger
in the palm of its hand–
a little bit away from me–
so I could get a
different perspective.
Then it blew it gently
into the good wind
and gave me instead
Life.

“Breathe deeply,” Love said.
“I know. I’m here.”

Imagine a World

Yesterday I went to the Hatch, a “virtual coffee shop where together we write” hosted by Suleika Jaouad, author of Between Two Kingdoms and founder of The Isolation Journals. I grabbed this screenshot during our session. Of course, there were really a hundred or so people writing together, but I took this photo because I found it fun to think about writing with these two, cozy in the same home in New England, and me writing here in Bahrain.

Carmen Ridley shared this passage for inspiration, from Adrienne Rich’s Sources:

To say no person, trying to take responsibility for her or his identity, should have to be so alone. There must be those among whom we can sit down and weep, and still be counted as warriors… I think you thought there was no such place for you, and perhaps there was none then, and perhaps there is none now; but we will have to make it, we who want an end to suffering, who want to change the laws of history, if we are not to give ourselves away.

—Adrienne Rich, Sources

Carmen’s prompt:

Imagine a world that can contain the multitudes you encompass. Where there is space for the paradoxes inside yourself. Where you can be a warrior and weep. How do people speak to each other? What do they make and build? Where do they live? How do they solve problems, raise children, grow their food? How do they war? Where do they weep?

I didn’t get much further than how people would speak and listen to each other in this imagined world. My poem inspired by Carmen’s prompt:

Imagine a world where pain could be tamed
where we didn’t have to be afraid
to take off our preservers of pretense
(Those other masks we’ve worn our lives long)
A world we could share our depths
and expanse with each other

Imagine a world where every word we spoke
was caught by listeners, brave and true.
Weeping, laughing, alive listeners
nesting with us in the pain,
helping us handle the hurts
without burning our hands

Imagine a world where receptivity
reigns and revelation is the result,
iron sharpening iron, each of us
no longer alone together,
but treasuring the beauty of the other–
bearing, hoping, enduring our weaknesses

Imagine a world where doubts become sorted,
obstacles become opportunities,
hopes become renewed,
where we all listen with delight
and solve with intent a launching
of liberty and justice for all.

Denise Krebs
8 May 2021

Grandma’s House

Day 21

Each window in the ramshackle cabin had a jagged starburst framework of glass shards. After Mom knocked out the most dangerous pieces from the bottom part of the window frame, she lifted me through. We were both careful so I wouldn’t cut myself on the glass knives on my right and left. Mom, who wouldn’t fit through the window herself, watched protectively as I stepped onto the glass-covered floor and walked toward the door to unlock it from the inside. I jumped when a mama bird took flight across the high ceiling of what would later become Grandma’s bedroom.

We worked every weekend for months to get this old homesteader cabin in shape. My grandma needed a new place to live, and my grandpa provided this little cabin for her to live in. He had built it decades before. (They were long ago divorced, so he had his own place.)

This became the grandma’s house I knew and spent many nights at. It was a two-and-a-half hour drive east from our home near L.A., and we often drove there on Friday after school and came back Sunday night. It’s where we went to the Sky Drive-in Theatre, hiked over the mountain to see what we could see, explored other abandoned cabins, flew cracked broken asbestos hot pads like frisbees, caught lizards and stink bugs, read from cover-to-cover the latest Mad Magazine that Mom and Grandma brought home from their  grocery runs, took baths outside, hung laundry on the clothesline, ate Grandma’s popovers, and feasted on Grandma’s favorite KFC fried chicken for special occasions.

We had Thanksgiving at Grandma’s every year. She, and all of us, thought more is always better in both the food and people departments. So we often brought others along who needed a home for Thanksgiving. When the Thanksgiving meal was finished there was always pumpkin pie and a nap or two. Later if anyone was hungry, they could warm up another plate of food from the spread that was left out on the naturally-refrigerated screened-in porch.

The next day we woke up bright-eyed and in a new holiday spirit. We put on our ugly Christmas sweaters (but no one called them ugly back then). We put away all the fall colors and turkeys, and we transformed my grandma’s house into a Christmas wonderland. A tree went up, red and green decorations and Christmas tablecloths adorned all the many dining room tables that had been pieced together. Gifts went under the tree. Games were played and gifts were exchanged. (Earlier we had chosen a name for one gift to give.)

When I got married my grandma couldn’t come to the wedding. They told me she was sick, but they didn’t tell me how sick. The day after the wedding, my husband and I went to Disneyland. We had a family tradition that when someone went to the Magic Kingdom, they would stop in Tomorrowland at the futuristic surround-sound telephone booth and call home. I didn’t want to stop that tradition, so on our Day 2 of married life we called home. My sister greeted us and gave us the news that my grandma had colon cancer. We actually left Disneyland at that time and drove the two-and-a-half hours to see my grandma. It would be the last time I saw her, as she died six-months later during my husband’s last semester of graduate school in Michigan.

The next time I went to Grandma’s house, it had become my Mom’s home. She had moved from our childhood home, where my brother and his new wife were living. Not exactly like a palimpsest, scraped clean and ready to be used again, for she had just moved into the same home and was now the grandma there for a new generation.

When we had children, the girls and I would leave at 5 in the morning and drive (not often enough) four hours west from Phoenix. Grandma would have breakfast ready for us, and then my girls would do some of the same things I did when I was a little girl.

When my mom got sick, she moved to another place near my sister, just a few miles away. We were all there with her the last week of her life. I was glad my teenage daughters got to be there to say goodbye.

Beside my dying mom
During her last days
In her rock house living room
Next to the rented hospital bed
Because of love
With sadness in our hearts
With fear, but with God
Good-bye, Grandma

Now the house stands empty, owned by my siblings and me. Will someone in this generation or the next scrape it clean and use it again?

Today’s idea is from The Isolation Journals, and it challenged us to think of our lives as metaphorical palimpsests. 

Prompt 144. Greater than the Sum of Parts, by Maura Kate Costello

Think of a site that holds many stories—like your hometown, an heirloom, your family tree, or even your own body. Can the stories live together in harmony? Or does the tablet need to be scraped clean, the story rewritten?