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FPOAS

file00012989551My bifocals progress from distance vision to close-up at exactly the center of the monitor screen.  I can’t find my pair of reading glasses; I suspect they’re buried in the pile of papers on the desk next to me, begging me to organize it.  The seat is uncomfortable.  The scanner juts out and forces me to sit at a weird angle to the keyboard.  I’m getting a stiff neck from this position.  Maybe I should wait until I get the computer gear rearranged.  That ought to buy me a week. Then there’s Christmas cards, painting the bathroom, cleaning the cat box, doing the dishes, and on and on and on.  There must be a million ways of avoiding writing.  But why do I go through this?  The analysis could take eons and still never hit the real reason; it becomes yet another form of avoidance.

There are as many stories floating in my head as there are means of avoidance.  There are essays on politics, on the newspaper industry, on living in the country, on the animals with whom I live, on the condition of marriage, on my family of origin, on my friends, and on my own peculiar exploits.  There are science fiction stories, a laundromat thriller, and some O Henry style short pieces.

Nobody else will write these for me.  No one else will put the same spin on them that I would.  I have one friend who would try and I’m sure he would remain faithful to my intent…but his style is so different from mine, that it would never be as if I’d written the stuff.  And I doubt if I’d be satisfied with the finished pieces.  I’m never satisfied with the things I write, so it only stands to reason that someone else’s version would fall short of the mark.  Count that one out.

Once I was so close to death that I could taste it.  I came away feeling driven to do something, to write the story of that event, to write all my stories.  My husband-to-be told me to slow down, to dim my flaring light before I burned it out entirely.  The writing was the first thing to go.  (It has always been the first thing to go.)  Then I began to fear that I might die without imparting all this material.  Mind you, I didn’t fear it enough to sit my fanny down at the computer, but enough to consider passing the information posthumously to some poor sucker via Ouija board.  Automatic writing is quite the fad these days; you can even do it with your computer.  And who says that all those spirits who inhabit the astral plane are up to no good?  Maybe they’re just trying to wrap up a little business before they go to the light.  What’s time to a ghost anyway?

My rationale here seemed so perfect.  I could guide the subject’s fingers on the board or keyboard, just as I might have done myself.  Or, better yet, I could transmit the information telepathically, sending the images directly to the mind of the subject.  There would be no interruptions on my end, for what else would I have to do?

I am assuming that there is no one who will come for me and tell me to set aside my worldly tasks.  Oh, how rude that would be!  To be engaged at last in the dream of a lifetime, with all of eternity at my fingertips, and then to be whisked away into the ether before I can ghost write my literary masterpieces.

But I digress.  The problem is self-discipline, or the lack of it.  A new friend of mine is also a writer; by that I mean she writes things with a beginning, a middle and an end…more than one thing, I think.  She encourages me to join a writers group, where she believes I will be more likely follow through with my good intentions.  She says I must start working out the writer’s muscles, to be exact: write five pages of absolute shit every day.  Adopt this as a creed or a curse.  FPOAS!!!

But I can’t stand to write drivel!  I can’t stand to write and not edit as I go along.  Every fiber in my body rebels at stream of consciousness style.  I DON’T CARE IF IT’S GOOD FOR ME.  I don’t want to do it!  I don’t have writer’s block; I have a bad case of procrastination.  Let me instead write one or two pages of something I can stand to read.  I can’t even do a good rant on the subject of my crazy family for more than three pages at a time.  And, if you can’t rant on for five pages about your family, who or what can you rant about?

I guess the trick is to keep talking, like a good filibuster in the Senate.  An ancient beau of mine was very good at encouraging me in this.

“That’s good,” he’d say, “I want to hear more.”  He believed in uninterrupted creative efforts and also in hashing out relationship woes.   “First you talk, and then I talk.  No, you listen while I talk, and then I will do the same for you.”  It changed the way I approached things in many respects.  But it’s hard to keep it up on my own, and the subsequent relationships have not been with composers or writers.

It’s not the natural order to sit down for several hours at the computer when my love is at home.  There are things to say and do.  The telephone rings, and the day intrudes.  Avoid, avoid, avoid.  Back at square one.  Five pages of absolute shit.  Well, this makes two.

Breath

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To the initiated lung, breath comes with ease.  Steady in, then out.  Its housing rises and falls to an inner rhythm, broken occasionally by changes in task or by the entrance of an unwanted speck of dust or emotion.  It is such bliss to its owner, when accompanied by delicious scents and flavors, such as chocolate, roses or hemp.

One begins to appreciate this function of life as the rhinovirus takes a firm grip on tender membranes.  Nasal passages swell and drip, forcing a new pattern of breath down your throat.  The tissue is like Dacron: drip-dry and scratchy.  Hoarseness creeps into your larynx and deep honking coughs erupt from parts of the lungs you never knew existed.  For four or five days you sound like a freight train running amok in New York City.  Mercifully, the tube into the ears also swells, making these noises more painful to the outside world than to oneself.

As a child I often listened to my mother’s breath while she slept.  Her snoring was loud and incessant.  To this day I can’t listen to a chainsaw without thinking of her.  My breathing adjusted to the same rhythm as hers, with no effort.  The effect was hypnotic.  Occasionally she ceased abruptly at the height of an inhaled breath, not a sound uttering from her lips…or mine.  Both if us hung on that pulmonary precipice for many seconds, until an equally sudden snort ripped the air, her spirit returning to ground.

Breath is precious; hold it, at all costs.  We children played games with this theme.  How long can you hold your breath?  Time it; the winner gets first pick in the cookie jar.  Usually some other purple-faced child poked a finger in my ribs and tickled me, thereby assuring his or her own win.  On rainy days when my father babysat us, we played hiding games.  How many can hide beneath the skirts of an armchair?  All breath was held in the balance, as his feet thundered past.  The line between real and imagined terrors was fragile, his alcoholic temper being subject to flare at any moment.  Some forty years later I still hold my breath in times of anxiety or excitement.

And then there is that last gasp that everybody fears.  I have been there and back.  In a fit of anaphylaxis I tried everything in my asthmatic’s arsenal to open my swelling bronchial tubes.  The swelling was relentless, tightening its grip like a vice around my throat.  I radiated heat and my ears began to ring loudly.  I clutched my boyfriend and asked, “Do you think this is one of those times you call 911?”  Seconds later I blacked out.  Fortunately he had already called the rescue squad, and ten minutes  after I took my last perceptible breath, they arrived.

Most people don’t survive past ten minutes without breathing.  I survived beyond all the odds.  Even the ER physician counseled my boyfriend that, if I made it, I probably wouldn’t be the person he knew.  I think my lifetime of holding my breath must have enabled me to pass this ultimate test.  Now it’s my turn to have first crack at the cookie jar.

Enter The Cat

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In the warm darkness of Madeleine’s guest bedroom, Cosmo was tiring of the catnip mouse. He had chased it around the room and under the bed, batted it up in the air and rubbed it against his muzzle and whiskers to get the full sensory effect of the catnip. He had inspected every surface of the room and thoroughly snuffled all the shoes in the closet. Now it was time for his treat, but Cody had not come back.

Cosmo tucked a striped paw under the door to see if the door would open. It rattled a little but did not give way. He scratched at the door lightly and then put both paws up on the door, arching his full back. He could get the paws up to the knob, but to no avail. He sat back on his haunches and thumped his tail.

Similar noises were rising from the floor below. Something scratch-scratch-scratched, and then there was a tinkling noise. The tabby waited for the sound of a metal lid being peeled from a can. There was no such noise. Instead there was a loud bump followed by a human grunt. All this noise and no treat. Cosmo began to yowl.

Excerpt from The Spin