Friday, July 24, 2009

Not an idiot.

Lost in the language. Or is it a ghost?
(Photo by Philipp Klinger)

When it comes to learning other languages, I'm hopeless. Mostly it's the talking. I never sound right. Terrified, I hear that in Vietnamese (a tonal language) "ma" can mean horse or rice-seeding or mother or ghost. Add a " 't " to "ma" and you're cool or lost...and I feel hopelessly bound to my mother tongue forever. This example, of tonal meanings in the English language, made me feel a bit better. I mean, this is complicated stuff. And I've got it down. In English. Stop laughing!

(from Melancholia)
This sentence has seven different meanings, depending on the stressed word:
  1. I didn’t say she stole my money — someone else said it.
  2. I didn’t say she stole my money — I didn’t say it.
  3. I didn’t say she stole my money — I only implied it.
  4. I didn’t say she stole my money — I said someone did, not necessarily her.
  5. I didn’t say she stole my money — I considered it borrowed, even though she didn’t ask.
  6. I didn’t say she stole my money — only that she stole money.
  7. I didn’t say she stole my money — she stole stuff which cost me money to replace.
See? I'm brilliant.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Grandma Graffiti, 2 of 8

{photo by seetwist}

2 of 8

Five days later she was out of the hospital, back in her shoebox 1-bedroom, l-level home. The home had been a present from her accountant-son and her daughter-in-law – a bargain foreclosure purchased when she moved to Portland from Montana. Though it had a small and pleasant-enough garden she occasionally tended to, it had the unfortunate of being in a twilight neighborhood – safe enough during the day, but the longer the shadow on the sidewalk, the more likely a homicide or drive-by-shooting became. She only ventured beyond the deadbolt door accompanied by her daughter-in-law, or if she ran short on groceries, like she did the day of the accident.

Having left her mother-in-law with a full bottle of horse-pills and a cupboard of groceries, the daughter-in-law waved goodbye from her bumper sticker encrusted Subaru. The rainforests, it seemed, were in a cheerful fight for their lives.

The grandma allowed the curtain to fall across the window, and double-checked the deadbolts. She turned inward towards her living room and felt light headed. Resting her hand on a pile of bright afghans, a wave of nausea hit her. This Portland home of hers – for eight months now, since she had been pried out of Helena – was her life in redux. Pieces of her half-century in Montana, where she had been a wife, mother and the Helena community’s only librarian were represented, like in an under-funded museum. The lamp her husband had made her from elk antlers, her award for 50 years of service to the library, her great grandma’s mahogany tea hutch. The effect made the grandmother feel trapped, as if the days in the antiseptic, practically designed hospital had affected her vision.

The hot, rotting orb in her back began to intensify, so she took a pain pill. She couldn’t stay, not here. She carefully pulled her raincoat across her shoulders, and packed a chunk of wrapped cheddar in her purse. When she opened the front door, springtime sunlight flooded her face. She closed the door behind her, leaving the lock and deadbolts untouched.

The industrial hum and tall ceilings of Office Depot immediately made her feel at ease. The pain pill had really taken effect now, and had softened the edges of the box store interior into a nest of grey down. She floated down the aisles, certain of her mission. She stared lustily at the Sharpee choices before her. There was the 12-pack, a rainbow of colors. Pastel pack. Neons. Poster tip, regular, fine, ultra-fine. Her eyes fell on a 2-pack – metallic limited edition – gold and silver traditional tip. She shivered as she reached up and took the item in her hand.

And it happened quite organically, really. On her way home she came across a beautiful yard with a swing set and two children's bikes strewn across the lawn. Hanging from the tree next to the sidewalk was a glass cylinder bird feeder. She tested the silver pen on her fingertip to get the pen’s juices flowing. She waved the birds away and steadied its surface with the palm of her hand. The moist fiber of the pen running across the smooth glass was sweeter than she ever could have imagined. The birds impatient tweets were amplified to operatic levels. An off-duty police officer drove by, barely registering the old lady on the sidewalk. And then: G.G. she tattooed, in silver cursive. She didn’t hurry away from the crime, but lingered and enjoyed the view. As the sun began to set, she headed home. On the way she unwrapped her cheese. Her appetite, it seems, was back.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

92 Days 'til Wordstock

I was just updating the Wordstock author list (!) and this video started playing. Lovely, done by Stephen Giem at W+K 12

Monday, July 6, 2009

Grandma Graffiti, 1 of 8

Dear gentle readers: this July I am participating in Declaration Editing's Super Short Summer Serial Contest (S4C). While everyone I know goes on breezy cool vacations, I will be here in Portland, so I thought I'd make good use (or, use, at least) of the month. This will not be my finest work, and will mostly be produced between the hours of 6 and 8 AM (because I have a job) and written the day of each serial's deadline, Monday's and Wednesday's (because I am lazy). And, I had to look up "serial story" because I only understood it to be something Chekhov did to milk a story for all its I think I get it now. You'll know if I don't. And, finally, I dedicate this story, in its sure-to-be fluxuating instances of success and failure, to Kristy, because she emails and yells if I don't post, and doesn't take "I'm lazy" for an answer.


She was two blocks away from Safeway before she realized she’d been stabbed. It was an event that would later be replayed on the evening news, and even three years later on America’s Most Amazing Crime Stories: grainy, silent footage of a grocery story robbery. The cashier and shoppers cowered and raised their hands above their head. In the moments leading up to the robbery she hands her check to a nameless cashier, who accepts it and turns toward the register. A flat looking teenager – whose only description anyone can recall later will be his loose tank top looped around his narrow shoulder and arm pits like stretched taffy – debuts in the upper left corner of the surveillance tape, pushing past four protesting customers. She was returning her wallet to her purse when he appeared behind her, wrapping her in a rough bear hug and demanding that everyone give him what he asked for, or the old lady gets it.

Afterward, with the police, she could only articulate the loud buzzing in her ear. Realizing she was useless, and with plenty of opinionated Safeway customers lined up to tell their versions of the story, they gave her the nod - she was free to go. She slowly gathered up her groceries that had spilled during the attack. Retrieving an apple that had rolled across the floor and under the lotto machine, she grimaced.

She shuffled down 82nd with her bag. Cars and buses flashed past, unrelenting. The late-afternoon heat danced above the sidewalk, and she struggled to take off her sweater. Two young boys snorted and sighed, impatient for her to move. She leaned over and folded her sweater, putting it atop her bag of groceries. One of the boy’s eyes widened and he hit his friend’s arm.

“Lady, lady…what the fuck’s in your back? Oh my gawd.”

Her heart started to beat faster, unsure of the boy’s motives. She leaned over intent on picking up her groceries and moving on but felt a blinding pain – and the buzzing intensified. The fall forward and two stinging scrapped knees was the last thing she recalled.

Later at the hospital she learned that during the robbery she had indeed been stabbed between her shoulders with a small butterfly blade. Despite the pain, she refused to make a fuss when her lower back started to swell and pulse as if angered. The cut had measured 2 and 1/2 inches deep, and only became visible when she had removed her loose sweater and turned her back to the delinquents on the street.

Her noisy and partially deaf hospital mate ran the local news channel day and night, and she found herself being pulled into a multi-day breaking news story about a graffiti epidemic that had swept Portland that summer. Gangs of faceless teenagers -- motherless or with a deficit of role models in their lives -- were to blame, the ageless blond newscaster reported from the field (the alley-side of a Plaid Pantry on SE Morrison and 12th), her voice carrying the confidence of the news channel's careful, in-depth research. The grandma slowly chewed on one of the peppermint taffy treats her daughter-in-law had brought her from the family's recent trip to the coast. She chewed, and considered this.