Avalon

Once upon a time, in a city 800 miles away (well, not exactly 800 miles – I rounded it up for dramatic effect), there lived a young woman with beautiful black hair.  Actually, I can’ tell you what her real hair color is because she’s a stylist and colors it all the time.  Anyway, on this particular cold but sunny Sunday morning, the woman, whose name is Avalon, decided to go to the corner coffee shop to get her daily dose of caffeine.  Lo and behold, as she arrived at the shop, there she spied a handsome young man.  Her eyes were filled with stars as she fantasized about them becoming a couple and sharing their mornings drinking coffee and scanning the news on their tablets.

Sidebar: Think about this – how different it would have been thousands of years ago talking about reading tablets compared to now in 2015.

Back to the story –

Suddenly, as Avalon stood there daydreaming, she heard a voice calling, “Next?  Next?  Miss, what can I get for you?”  Avalon shook off the wonderful thoughts and proceeded to order her coffee.  She glanced around and saw the good-looking guy exit the shop.  Luckily, the shop front was nothing but a large window, so Avalon was able to see that the man was standing at the bus stop on the corner.  She couldn’t assess whether he was waiting for the bus or waiting to cross the street.  You know how it is when you’re supposed to stand there waiting for the tiny red-lighted hand to turn to the white-lighted icon of a walking person.  So she paid for her tall black coffee, no cream, no sugar, and rushed out the door ignoring the fact that she was holding the cup in the wrong spot (not on that cute little brown band they slip over the cup to keep you from burning your hand).  Avalon scurried to the corner and stood next to the charming young man.

“Wow!” she exclaimed, not looking at him.  “This coffee is super hot!”

The young man turned to her and admitted, “Yep, mine is too hot to even attempt to drink right now.  But it sure feels good to hold something warm.”

The smiled at each other.

“Do you live around here?” Avalon asked, never being a shy person or afraid to say what’s on her mind.

“No, I’m staying with a friend,” the man replied.  “Oh, that must be my bus,” he said as the Number 42 Metro pulled next to the curb.  The young man boarded the bus and sat down without waving goodbye or even acknowledging that Avalon was still standing on the corner.  The bus pulled away.

Avalon stood there, dumbfounded, wondering why her fantasies never come true.  Feeling slightly downhearted, she started walking back to her apartment.

The End

Did you thing there would be a happy ending?  Well, not all stories end with “and they lived happily ever after.”  The moral of this story is – reality bites sometimes.  So move on, make the best of what you have, always be mindful, and look for the next opportunity.

Waiting for a Call (a Fictional Story)

The streets are bathed in the shadowy silver light of the full moon. The distant barking of dog – from its pitch it sounds like a large dog – is echoing against the houses and trees. I’m sitting cross-legged on my bed in the darkness of the room staring out the window. I’m wondering if he’ll call.

He wrote earlier in the day in his email that he had something important to tell me and that he’d call later. It’s not any easy thing for me to do – to wait – and he knows it. But I had no choice.

The entire ride home was spent contemplating what he was going to tell me. That he got a promotion? That he won the lottery? Or maybe someone he knows did something noteworthy? My mind must have considered hundreds of possibilities in my twenty minute trek home.

I sat through the 6 o’clock news with my phone next to me. He didn’t call. I ate a quick dinner of a bologna sandwich and a bag of kettle cooked potato chips, and he still didn’t call.

At one point my impatient self tried calling him, but the call went right to voice mail. I sighed in frustration. I didn’t leave a message.

Almost midnight. I decide to go to bed. Although, if I had stayed up waiting for the phone to ring, it wouldn’t have been the first time I’d done that. But one lives and learns that sometimes people forget, or they get involved in something so intense that they forget everything else … even promises.

The story should end with some exceptional reason why he didn’t call like he said he would. But it doesn’t. He didn’t have a reason other than he forgot. He forgot.

When I press him for the news he was supposed to share, he says, “oh, it was nothing really. I wanted to let you know that I was thinking of you. That’s all.”

That was all. Deflated. Annoyed. Bothered by his insensitivity, knowing how I get impatient and that my minds tries to consider all possible outcomes. So he was thinking of me. I think of him hundreds of times each day.

But I move on. You won’t find me waiting up for another call promised but never delivered. End of story.

The Music Lesson

I’m sitting on the cold tan metal folding chair in the narrow hallway. The hunter green carpeting looks fairly new, but the cream colored vinyl moulding has seen better days. Although as I scan the white wall across from me, I see that the scrapes, nicks, and handprints littering the paint blend nicely with the scuffed moulding. Apparently the wall has its own story.

I am twenty minutes early for my mandolin lesson. Behind the closed classroom door next to my row of chairs the sounds of electric guitar chords mix incongruently with the trumpet blaring a halting version a Mendelssohn tune from a room two doors down to my left. The piano tinkling a show tune in the last room down the hall is interrupted …

… “Good job,” the guitar player’s instructor enthusiastically blurts …

… and the violin to my right chirps happy notes agreeing with him.

Three chairs to my left the mom of the budding guitarist reads her novel. She periodically coughs into her hand and then turns a page. She seems to be oblivious to all that is happening around her. It must be a very good story she is reading.

To my right a black Epiphone guitar case stands lonely against the wall. Its owner is MIA, probably perusing music books, maybe buying a set of strings or some flat picks, occupying himself before his lesson starts.

It’s Tuesday afternoon.

This story is about waiting your turn surrounded by sounds, patience, and creatively killing time. It’s a story about the drive to learn, the need to prove you can do it. It’s about never thinking you are too young or too old to create music.

The Art of Storytelling

If you’re retelling a story from your past, not only should you be able to transport yourself back to the very place and time of the event, but the person you’re relaying the story to should feel as if they were there with you.  Even if it’s fictional, it must ring true to both you and your audience.  Let me give you an example.

I went hiking in Catoctin Mountain Park this past August.  I hadn’t been hiking there since the previous fall and was anxious about walking the paths I know.  This may sound silly, but I feel a real connection when I hike there, something that refreshes my psyche.  I left my house at approximately 7:45 am to insure I would have at least the beginning of my trek to myself (it’s a 45 minute drive and usually I’m the first on the trail).  True to history, I was the only person at the mouth of Hog Rock Nature Trail when I arrived at the parking area off Park Central Road.  My plan was to hike the trail to the vista and then continue on towards Cunningham Falls.

It was unseasonably cool that August morning so I grabbed my gray fleece vest from the backseat of the car.  I zipped it up and then opened the trunk to don my hiking boots and backpack.  I snuggled into my new gargoyle-colored boots, bounced my heels up and down a couple of times to admire how good they felt on my feet.  I juggled the backpack onto my shoulders and then picked up my hiking poles.  I know it’s a “girl thing”, but I couldn’t help thinking how fantastic it is that the shades of gray and purple in my boots, backpack, and poles were coordinated.  Slamming the trunk shut and locking the vehicle, I couldn’t help smiling as I moved onto the trail.

Not ten seconds into the walk and stopped dead in my tracks.  I gazed around at the mountain landscape, barely recognizing the trail I have walked many times over the past years.  Treepocolypse – the name given to the devastating ice storm we suffered early in the year – had ravaged many of the trees.  I felt a heavy weight on my heart as I looked left to right, breathing in the sadness of so much loss.  I walked on for a few minutes and stopped to assess what had happened over the past many months.  A good number of the trees had been cut into large logs which were heaped in small piles away from the trail.  Some logs had been used on the path to mark or ease the incline/decline.  However, it seemed that many more of the trees were frozen in time at the moment of the storm – countless numbers of them leaning, pulled up at their roots, wedged precariously against neighboring trees; many more laying flat against the mountain floor.  I sighed deeply.

As I walked on towards the vista I could hear rustling in the grass to my left.  I stopped.  A chipmunk scurried away.  Birds chirped from high in the trees, probably alerting those ahead that there was an intruder in their midst.  I looked up towards the treetops which were dark against the cloudy sky.  I could hear the birds but couldn’t see them.  None of them were flying.  Odd.  I continued on, paying close attention to the trail beneath my boots.  Spider webs clung tightly to clumps of leaves.  The first of yellow and green and brown leaves littered the trail.  No sounds but occasional rustling leaves and the birds.

I wandered off the trail about midway to the vista just to see a large rock formation colored with moss.  I snapped a picture with my phone.  I turned and took a few more shots of tree trunks held up precariously by other trees standing tall against the dead weight.

I reached the vista and stood there for five, maybe six minutes.  It was just cloudy enough that visibility was reduced to the point of not seeing much beyond a mile or so.  I looked down at the landscape directly below the vista and saw dozens of fallen trees littering the mountainside.  So much destruction!  Again, I sighed deeply but admitted that this is a natural thing for nature to make way for new growth.

I moved on past the vista along the trail towards the tiny sliver of a creek which runs down off the trail, the place where I’ve sat many times on the largest of the stones and contemplated nature while listening to the water trickle over the creek bed.  When I reached my destination, my mouth dropped as I stared at the mud and the little puddle of water no larger than a quarter.  What was going on up here in Catoctin?

I was glad I had the trail to myself.  I had a tarot reading in Gettysburg two weeks prior.  The reader said that I would experience something wonderful in a form of communication with nature if followed her instructions, and I knew that I would only do so if no one else was around.  I dropped my backpack and pulled out a packet of loose organic tobacco which she had told me to purchase if I could find it (which I did at a tobacco store near my house).  I gingerly opened the blue plastic envelope and scooped up a handful of the sweet smelling stuff.  Carefully, I sprinkled it in a large circle that spanned the width of the trail.  I replaced the packet and then knelt down within the circle, knees first, and then resting my palms on the mountain.  I closed my eyes and tried to become one with the natural forces surrounding me (this is what the reader had told me to do).  In less than a minute, I could feel the pull of something move from the ground and upward through my body.  I felt as if something inside of me was being pulled upward, gravity meaning nothing at this point to whatever was releasing itself through me, from me.

I jumped up, a little startled at the feeling that had consumed me.  But I was curious – was this all in my head, or did it really happen?  I assumed the same position as a minute ago, and again felt the same force making its way from the mountain through me and upward.  Craziness, I though.

I stood, and with my feet I swept the tobacco towards the edges of the path.  I considered what had just happened, wondering if it due to the lack of coffee (I never drink the stuff prior to a hike), or if something spiritual had happened.  Knowing I would never really know for sure, I trekked back to my car.  On my way, I took some of the more interesting stones from the path and tucked them into the pockets of my backpack.  Souvenirs of most curious hike.

Off in the distance I could hear a couple of motorcycles making their way down Park Central Road.  They drove along, and then I heard the engines idling.  They had stopped somewhere not far from where I was.  I got a chill, not from the air, but by recalling the “Dateline” episode where a serial killer was torturing and murdering hikers in the southeast.  You know, I’d never been concerned about hiking alone prior to viewing that episode.  However, I shrugged it off.  It’s either hike alone or not hike at all.  I choose the first option every time.

So that’s the end of the story.  Did it feel real to you?  Was I able to transport you to Catoctin, and were you on the hike with me?  How much of the story do you think was fact, and how much was fiction?

The Stories Manifesto

It hit me today while I was washing my hair that I am missing out on a tremendous volume of stories. When I called my mom yesterday, a Sunday afternoon routine to stay in touch, I could hear conversation and laughter in the background. Turns out that my sister, my brother-in-law, and my nephew and his girlfriend were spending time with my parents the Sunday after my dad’s birthday. While I felt a touch of sadness while I was on the phone that I wasn’t there to spend that time with them, it really didn’t bother me until today. Distance can be a real drag.

I realized quite some time ago that there would be many things that I would miss by moving almost 800 miles away from my family. I think it’s a factor of getting older that you want to squeeze as much as you can into what you perceive as the time that you have left. The weekly telephone touch-base with my mom and my sister are not doing it for me the way it used to. I’ve relied on Facebook to keep in touch with my nephews so that I can feel a connection, although distant, to what’s going on in their lives. But there is something major lacking. “Liking” a post is in no way as gratifying as a heartfelt hug and speaking words instead of typing them onto a screen. And when your sister and parents aren’t Facebook “friends” it feels like the connection distance is magnified.

It’s evident to me that I am missing way too many stories. I’m missing the stories of what my nephews are doing with their lives because Facebook can only convey so much. I’m missing hearing the old stories of my dad when he was growing up and the wild things he and his buddies used to do. I’m missing the stories of my mom’s childhood and the wonderful and odd things she and her sisters used to do when they were young. Sure, I’ve heard many of those stories in the past, but I think perspective changes as you get older. There might be a little things in the stories, little nuances, that are important – things I may have missed the first time I heard them.

I’m not there for other family events, so it’s rare that I get to see uncles, aunts cousins, etc. thank goodness I saw many of them in June for my mom’s birthday party. Prior to that it had been years. Again, I miss hearing the stories of what’s going on in their lives. Tidbits on Facebook are good, but the reality is that I’ve lost touch with what makes everyone tick.

Maybe it’s just that I miss being surrounded by family sometimes.

Facebook is great. The telephone is wonderful. But nothing can take the place of being there in person to look into the eyes of the people you love and admire.

This is the beginning of my manifesto on Stories.