My Birthday, Your Story

It’s my 30th birthday today. I had a dream about a story, so I woke up and wrote it. Hope you enjoy:

On a low hill in a quaint hamlet in the center of a very small island, there sat a tree. It wasn’t a very remarkable tree, though it was tall (three man-heights) and broad (three man-widths) and its two branches, like arms, stretched out and away and upwards toward the sky. The wood was gnarled and grey, for it was old (though no one knew how old) and wise (for wisdom grows in the roots of the land, and this tree’s roots were very long and very deep).

Leaves would go on this tree, always green and always rich. When autumn came to the island and to the hamlet in the center of it, the leaves did not wilt, nor did their color fade into the yellows and oranges of the season’s sunsets. They stayed green, like raw emeralds, and they kept their wide, hearty shape. When winter came, they would simply disappear, a few at a time, until the coldest days arrived and frost coated the dirt roads and the fields, and those twisted arms of the tree and its long, grey neck stood bare. No leaves littered the ground; they simply ceased to be, until spring brought buds and those buds brought leaves, rich and green and full of life.

This tree did not have a name, but though other trees (smaller, with more color, whose leaves did what leaves are supposed to do throughout the year) existed down near the water and in the yards fenced off and tucked away in yards behind quaint little homes, when someone wanted to go “out by the tree”, everyone knew it was the tree on the hill.

Picnics were had underneath the tree, and first kisses, and hounds would be taken up to play (though even the hounds knew better than to spoil that majestic trunk). Weddings were officiated there, and vows exchanged, and new lives began. It was a good tree, and a reliable one, and a wise tree, down to its deep, deep roots.

And every so often, every five years or so, that tree, in the center of its trunk and in the dead of night, would let off a peculiar light-blue glow.

Because this was a deliberate action on the tree’s part, there was no pattern to the glow’s arrival save for the whim of the tree. Though it was a fierce and beautiful shining light, it would sometimes go unnoticed. Though it always happened at night, the tree cared not for where the moon sat in the inky black sky. It would be discussed and questioned, but no one approached. To the hamlet it was a mystery, and mysteries were terrifying.

Now, this is a story about the tree, but it is also a story about a boy who grew. And before he grew, many years ago, he was just a boy who was, acting as boys do: impulsively and confidently and with little fear at all, through the mornings and deep into the afternoons, all up until late one night when he saw a thing that he maybe wasn’t quite ready to see.

Oh, he had heard about the light in the tree. From his parents and their friends, in hushed tones over an evenly-cooked dinner. From the older boys who were certain of what they would do should they see the blue glow in the dark. From the wizened old men and women who spoke in short sentences as they looked upon the hill with wistful eyes.

But one night, long after his mother had tucked him in under the scratchy warmth of his woolen blanket, that boy crawled over the ledge of his window and into the rocky little roads of his hamlet. He ducked and dodged through the shadows, sure that no one was awake and outside but cautious enough not to take a chance, until he reached the edge of the homes, back near the base of the hill.

Once out there, his eyes searched for more. The edge of the island, perhaps, and the waves there that lapped against the shore. Or a stick, maybe, with which to draw symbols in the dirt to confound the others once they woke. Instead, his eyes found the tree, that wizened, winding watcher on the hill, and as he looked a light began to form, faint at first but swiftly growing into a brilliant blue.

Before that night, the boy had never considered what he might do should he be the one so lucky as to see the light in the tree. Truth be told, he did not even know then, and so it was fortunate, perhaps, that his feet acted on their own accord. Left foot in front of the right and then the other way around, over and over until he had climbed the hill and stood directly in front of the tree. That close he could see clearly where the glow was coming from: four lines that appeared to have been cut into the trunk. Four lines that formed a rectangle, twice as tall as the boy stood. The light pulsed with a life of its own, and then flickered as the boy reached out his hand.

It died completely as the tips of the boy’s fingers touched the rugged wood, and the four grooves had disappeared completely, as if they had never been there at all.

“No,” the boy whispered, and it was all he whispered, as the rest of the words had snuck out of him as easily as he had snuck from his own bed.

The boy walked back to his house, the ocean forgotten, the stick forgotten, the light in the tree the only thing in his mind. He climbed back over the ledge of his window, climbed back under his thick blanket, and though he was not tired, he quickly fell asleep.

He did not dream.

That boy grew. He grew into a young man who learned to fish and found he loved it. He fought, once, his only fight, over the a woman he did not truly love and came away with a purple eye and a split lip. He learned early that pride was not as important as knowledge, and he learned many things about himself.

He grew into a proper man who learned to repair homes. His hands grew calloused as he prepared houses for the storms that came late in the year. He managed his tempers and frustrations. During the days without work, be stared longingly at the waters, wanting one day to take his boat out beyond the horizon on a journey with no set end. During the nights, he would look up at the tree on the hill. It had refused him once, and it would not glow for him again.

One afternoon came along, and as he looked at the frothy waves and the fish that would sometimes jump from them through the air, he found himself joined by a woman with hair kissed by the sun. She was a farmer’s daughter with strong shoulders and soft hands, and she would become his wife within a summer’s time. They married beneath the tree.

Though he loved his wife, though she stole the breath from him every time she walked through a doorway to greet him, he looked often at the trunk during their ceremony. At the space where lines had once creased it, and where once blue light had lit upon his face. His distraction did not go without notice, but his wife knew his love for her and knew he would tell her his secret when he felt comfortable.

He tried often, but felt foolish. He worried that she would not believe him, or that she would and think the fading of the light was an ill omen. He tried often, but said nothing of the tree. He spoke often of his love, and she was content.

He would grow into an old man with children of his own–two daughters and a son, all of whom were as impulsive and confident and with little fear as he had been. He nurtured them into adults and taught him what he knew of fishing and love and temperance. They asked him about the tree and he repeated the same stories he had heard as a child. A handful of people in the hamlet claimed to have seen it over the years, in the middle of the night. None had approached. It was a wive’s tale, and a husband’s tale, and a tale for children that few truly believed. His children had children, and he enjoyed afternoons bouncing them on his knee by the fire and carving for them small wooden toys with joints so that they moved and rocked and posed.

One winter the farmer’s daughter passed away. She was warm when she went, and sleeping, a half-finished scarf draped across her lap. Her knitting needles had fallen from her hand to the floor. One had rolled up against the side of her foot. The boy who grew found her as he prepared to bring her to bed. Though his heart fell, like the knitting needles, and though his hand shook, he simply bowed his head and ran his fingers through her hair.

The ground was difficult to shovel, but her funeral was nice. Warm in the cold winter day by the bodies of the hamlet, who had all turned out to pay their respects.

The winter was hard and dark. The children of the boy who grew checked on him but spent most of their time with their own young boys and girls. The days passed, and the weeks, and the spot in his bed that had belonged to the farmer’s wife grew no less empty.

The boy who grew would stand in his doorway in the middle of the night, skinny arms wrapped across his chest. He looked up at that gnarled tree, gray and wise on that hill, and he begged often with his eyes.

“Why?” his eyes would ask. “What did I do wrong? Why won’t you come back for me?”

And the tree was silent in its wisdom, and patient, and it waited. The days passed, and the weeks.

The boy who grew would weep sometimes at night, though he was filled with love. His children were strong. His wife was at peace. The bed was still empty and the oceans still called.

One night, when the skies were at their clearest and the stars were bright and smiling, he left his home and walked up the hill to the tree. He had had picnics there and married the love of his life. He had seen his children and his grandchildren play with the hounds. He stood before the tree and placed his palm against the rough bark of the trunk.

“I am tired,” said the boy who grew. “And I am cold. And for my mistakes–the ones I know and all those I don’t–I am sorry. But for all that, I have lived a good life to the best of my ability, and I am proud of those in it. Through it all, through every dark night and bright day and all of both that fall somewhere in the middle, you have been there. Thank you.”

And the tree was warm. And it knew it was time.

Lines began to form in the trunk: four, forming a square, with the hand of the boy who grew touching square in the center. It was not so big a square this time, as the boy had become taller and the tree had stayed the same, but the square was still large enough for him.

The light flickered to life, blue like orchids, blue like forget-me-nots. It washed over his face and his chest, warming him in the winter chill. The creases in the trunk, he realized, hand on the wood, formed a door. Should he knock? wondered the boy who grew. Or was the return of the light in the tree, now, in his twilight days, welcome enough?

He pushed and the door swung upon. The light grew brighter. As the boy who grew looked beyond, a single tear trailed down his cheek to catch on the turn of his smile.

“Thank you,” he whispered, and that’s all he whispered, for the rest of the words had walked away from him as confidently as he had walked up the hill.

He stepped inside.

The next morning, the hamlet wondered at length where the old man (once a boy, many years ago, who grew and grew and grew) had gone. When he never again turned up, they went on to grieve and to place a little marker down by where the farmer’s daughter lay. And up on the hill, that wise, gray, twisted tree sat with its roots deep down in the ground.

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A Perfect Place

The way she brushes
Her hair from her face
The world from her shoulders
Paint against canvas
Lips against mine

I picture a wide, open space. The interior of a warehouse, for example, with a paved floor. Concrete, probably, smooth and certain. A comfort in its consistency. It’s a place with a tall ceiling and high windows. A place with natural lighting which, mixed with white walls, lends a pale glow to the interior.

I say interior, but I mean work place. This is a place for art, a place to pull the demons free from a heart-filled ribcage, a place to spit beauty from our fingertips with all the grace of a maestro, the energy of an Olympic free-form swimmer, and the rage of a mother bear protecting its cubs. Or a mother elephant. Or a mother badger. Any mother, really, and like a mother, it’s in this place we give birth.

And like a mother, we deal with art with nurturing care, with frustration, with delicacy, with harsh words to get the point across.

In this space, there is a desk. It’s my desk, this wooden beast, clumsy and cluttered and gifted with two deep drawers. This is a dream, you see, so I can only guess what is in the drawers, but I imagine the top is full of notes and the bottom is home to a bottle of rum and a glass whose origins are lost to time. A gift, or more likely a thrift shop purchase, because I like thrift shops and any time I can give a loving home to a lonely-looking item on the shelf, I endeavor to do so.

The top of the desk is patterned with pages. There’s the book I’m working on, the book that’s next, a binder for the books left to come, and a book I need to read. I keep three pens by it all at all times, always. My primary, my back-up, and the one I use when I inevitably use or lose the first two into oblivion.

A desk is hardly a desk without a lamp, so I have one of those, too. A black one with an adjustable neck. Battery-powered, because who the hell wants to put a desk next to an outlet with all this open space, and if I brought an extension cord, I would find a way to trip over it somehow. The floor is concrete. Smooth. Certain. Hard.

This desk is where I work. Where I write. Where I give birth. Where I am. Who I am. I am the desk, the work, the art.

I am not alone.

The way she moves
Swimming through air
Gliding across the floor
Passing through the world
Across the canvas
Across my skin

She has an easel, and it’s a bit beat-up. It isn’t one of those fancy easels, not a socialite’s easel. It isn’t the easel toasting Jay Gatsby at a gala. The wood is scratched and stained and looks a little unreliable, but it stands straight and steady and she assures me it will last, and while I know a little bit about being unreliable, I know nothing about easels, so I take her word for it.

I asked her why she wanted something so… used when we could save up and have something fresh and completely yours, and she told me it was the same reason you should adopt a pet from the pound. “It’s got personality, it appreciates good care because it knows bad care, and all it really needs is a good home and someone to love it.”

Well. Makes sense to me.

Her palette, a dozen-welled beauty, is a different story, however, immaculate and well-maintained. I don’t know what she spent on it, and I didn’t ask. I’m simply impressed by how much care she takes of it and her brushes.

“One must treat their tools with respect so that they might produce the desired effect. Besides, a brush is much harder to replace than a pen.”

Well. Makes sense to me. I stole this pen from a bank yesterday. I imagine brushes are harder to come by.

She keeps hers on a tray, lined up in a row like a torturer’s kit. Like a torturer, she uses them to bring out the truth from her subject The Canvas. She exposes the truth of life, of love, of honesty and the universe. The brushes bristle at untouched space and the bristles rush to correct it. Or not. Sometimes they do so in measured strokes, methodically, deliberately.

Her tray sits on a cart that contains the tools of her art. Paint cans and pencils and a palette knife that she brandishes when she speaks to me, though never threateningly. Not yet, anyway. There’s a bowl of water for cleaning, a towel for drying, an eraser for…well, you know.

Everything has its place and she moves from memory, pulling and replacing, dabbing and rinsing, and when she’s done and the piece is dry, she sticks it against the back wall. Paintings sit there in a row, each with their own space to breathe and be, all waiting for the next art show in which most will be sold off to a new home with a new loving owner, like her easel and my rum glass.

She also has a lamp. Hers is tall and elegant where mine is short and crooked. Hers is white where mine is black. Hers casts a halo where mine is a spotlight. Such are our lamps. Such are we.

We work together in silence mostly, though one or the other of us will occasionally put on some music. Music is a great facilitator for great things, not the least of which is art. So we work, we listen, we pace, blood on the page, soul on the canvas. Occasionally we will do a thing like talk, and ask for opinions, and bounce off ideas.

We work into the day with sun pouring through our high windows like honey, illuminating and warming us without distracting us with visions of outside. We work into the night, hunkered over our pieces, aided by our halogen allies and warmed by each other’s company.

This is what I dream of. This craftsmanship and companionship. This private, shared workspace. The room to move and think and shout and punch the air and a spot to come back to and think and create. With her there. With her creating. With her.

The way she paints
Music with her motions
Love with her passion
The world with her mind
Me, with her inspiration

Wanderlust

“Why do you insist on ruining your own life?”

I had a friend ask me that at a bar one weekend when I went to say goodbye to her cousin, who was visiting. It struck me as…a fair question, if strangely timed. I certainly have been self-destructive at times in my life, including relatively recently. The last few months, though, I feel like I’ve been in a pretty solid place in most regards. I’m more self-aware, more productive, more patient in so much as it regards to my relationships with people.

She meant it present-tense, I think, though I didn’t ask. That’s not the kind of conversation I like to have when drinks are involved, and it’s definitely not the type of conversation I want to have in public. It has bothered me, though, and I’ve had time to think about it.

I don’t think Alaska is conducive to my health. Mentally or physically, I’ve become a shut-in who misses the places I’ve been and dreams of the places I haven’t. I want life, and adventure, and love, fleeting and otherwise. This state is harsh. It’s tight-knit and bitter and blunt. The unparalleled beauty of this state in any season belies a darkness that creeps into you if you’re not careful. It’s hard for a lot of people without emotional issues. It’s even worse with those constantly wrestling with their sense of self.

My mind is full of fantasies of crashing waves and sunsets, people-watching in a crowd of strangers, dive bars I’ve never heard of and hole in the wall caf├ęs with local bands playing for tips. I dream of kisses that happen in the heat of the moment, amidst the heat of bodies crammed together in a club, for fleeting glances and those first, free conversations when something ridiculous has brought two people together to comment on it.

Alaska is a cage. It’s home to me, but I’ve got both eyes on the door. I just don’t know how to be self-sufficient enough to leave. I could probably find a willing roommate, and I know how to get around without a vehicle, but it’s the occupation bit that holds me back. I like my current job and it pays me well but to transfer, I would need to learn several new markets that we simply don’t sell in Alaska, and I don’t know how well I would perform in that capacity. At the same token, I don’t know what else I would do.

I find myself writing more in general and more or less excited for the future. I like myself more? Most days? But I wake up some days just feeling crushed and anxious and trapped. I would gnaw my fucking ankle off and go buy a new foot from IKEA if it meant I found a new, stable place to be. I don’t think I’m being particularly self-destructive at this point in time, but at the same time, I’m not doing myself any favors by simply accepting where I’m at, despite the familiar faces, despite that I know this (increasingly violent) city because it has been most of my life.

As I finish up this book and get it ready for sale, I find myself jittery and tense. There are nerves involved, of course, in waiting for the reactions to my finishing this trilogy, but there’s also this spectre hanging over my shoulder, constantly reminding me that I’m grinding this shit out in a place where my dream career has no real place to go.

So there’s that, I guess. I’ll keep you posted, and I’ll keep it honest.

I Have Some Weird Dreams

There is a house I’ll occasionally visit in my dreams. I’m not entirely sure how it was built, though it seems a partial amalgamation of my step-father’s old house on the hill, the house on the lake and possibly a ski resort. It’s a nice place, don’t get me wrong, but the emotion I get when I visit it is never overwhelmingly one emotion or another. I enjoy the place, but there’s always this sense of looming melancholy. It’s like when the day is warm, but you look up and see overcast in the distance for a light storm that never quite comes.

There’s an immaculate deck on the second floor with a hot tub that cost probably half a year’s pay. The deck comes out on the side to a hill that descends to a shared beachfront. The bank is rocky, but a dock extends out away from it, a dinghy tied to the end. Teenagers, children, young adults swim in water that is never as cold as it should be and never as warm as a dream ought to make it. I don’t recall seeing adults in it; when I swim, I think I’m a teenager again myself.

Far out past the the swimming area, there are a handful of rocks with boast drifting to and from behind them. I don’t know what they do, what they’re waiting for, if they’re just fishing or if they’re waiting for someone to swim out so they can whisk them away elsewhere.

Swimming to the right, around a jutting bank, takes you to an isolated rock upon which an abandoned lighthouse sits. I don’t know if you would be able to reach it by ground or not. When I visited, I swam to it and climbed up onto the rocks.

I was with someone – a girl, I believe – but I remember her only in bits and parts. A flash of appearance here, a “Check this out!” there. We were friends, whoever she was.

I recall coming across an empty room set up like a private study, everything covered in dust. A small bookcase to the left of the room was packed with tomes of varying height and girth. To the center was a small, dirty window overlooking the bay. The sky was gray that day. A desk sat in front of the little portal to the outside world with a single rose in a narrow glass vase in the top right corner. It was dead, but not wilted. It looked more like potpourri on the stem.

A notebook rested beside the flower, an old thing bound in cracked maroon leather and a quill lay across it. I recall being tempted to open it. What scribings would I find inside? The musings of a man looking out at a sea he missed or perhaps never got the chance to sail on? A letter to a lost love or a woman waiting, warm in the amenities of their home while he made do with a small fireplace and whatever watery soup he managed to cook over it? More likely it was full of sparse notes detailing the observations of the day. Could you see the kids swimming from the lighthouse? I don’t recall that being the case.

I don’t remember much after that. I was called away, my friend and I climbed back down into the water and swam back to the sprawling house.

I’ve only been to the lighthouse once. I’ve visited the house at least three times, the most recent being last night. I don’t know where it comes from or why I go, but it’s…kind of nice. It’s different.

Did I mention that hot tub?