Here’s a a long entry from my Pandemic Journal…
They spin in the air, invisible, waiting for you. Someone sneezed by the tomatoes but you didn’t hear him. You were idling over at the bread aisle and then decided to head for produce. You trounce the big droplets of sneeze that have sunk to the floor but breathe in a stream of suspended microparticles. You mainline the virus, once airborne, now buried deep into your lungs as you gasp in twisted joy— how lovely the greens look—and decide to buy a pound for dinner that night.
This is how you think you’ll get it.
Nobody sneezes. But when you’re checking out, distracted by the closeness of the woman dumping groceries on the conveyor belt, you lay your wallet on the counter which countless hands have touched. (You are running out of wipes and the aisle that’s normally stocked with cleaning supplies looks like an abandoned erector set project.) You load eleven bags of groceries into the back of the car. Your wallet falls out of your purse. You hastily pick it up, slip it back into your zippered bag and then reflexively push your glasses up the bridge of your nose.
Last stop. Almost home. You’re still hoping to find anything that will kill it, even if it’s a substance that in the wrong quantities would certainly kill you.
You snag a gallon of Chlorox and are elated. At the credit card machine, you smile and crow how you scored the last bottle of bleach.
The convenience store cashier gives you stink eye, doesn’t smile back.
You do not realize how your excessive celebration might sound to a minimum-wage worker who wishes she were home spraying her doorknobs with disinfectant instead of having to show up for work. But you won’t understand this until later.
You see her painted nails through the transparent latex gloves as she examines your Visa card.
She says, I need a photo I.D.
You feel put upon. Singled out unfairly. A churning whirlwind begins to grind circles in your gut. You smile again, hoping for leniency. (Suddenly you are phobic about touching your wallet.)
She is unresponsive. No photo I.D., no bleach.
You reluctantly hold up your wallet, and show your driver’s license, secure behind its plastic window.
But she tells you, surly like a cop, take it out. She is pissed.
You flash an exaggerated smile—but clearly don’t mean it. Here, you say, and set the license on the counter a little too forcefully. Your microaggression feels justified. (You didn’t anticipate how this would only escalate things.)
She takes it and then turns her back on you, forcing you to guess what she might be doing to your I.D. Then she answers a call on her cell.
Now you are pissed.
As she makes you wait, though, something about the smallness of her shoulders slumped inside her yellow sweater grabs you. Shames you. The big picture of the moment brings you to your senses.
When she finally runs your card, you immediately apologize. You don’t want to fight. It’s wrong to treat each other this way, especially now. Let’s not do this. Your hands are trembly. Please. Forgive me.
But her face is cold and cutting. Already turned to stone, you’re dead to her.
Turn on the faucet. Wait! Before you turn on the tap, use a wipe paper towel so you don’t contaminate the handle.
Using your elbow as a lever, depress the pump on your bottle of hand soap so that a small large dollop of gel lands in the middle of your palm. Depress again. The virus can’t tolerate soap.
Rub your hands until they foam white and bubbly. Notice how pink red the skin looks coated in white bubbles.
Be careful not to overlook the backs of your hands. Underneath your nails. Between your fingers. Up past the wrist.
Twenty Thirty seconds is longer than you think.
Rinse your hands in the stream of hot water. Let it burn a little.
Watch the spinning vortex at the center of the sink—soap and water you hope wash the fear disease down the drain.
Today—I researched ‘isolation’ and discovered this—
In 1993, social psychologist Craig Haney began studying the effects of solitary confinement at Pelican Bay State Prison in California, one of the first “super-max” prisons in the country. Twenty years later, he went back to gather more information — and found many of the same inmates still suffering alone in their cells.
Deprived of all human contact, the psychologist discovered that the prisoners’ brains actually had withered and shrunk. If your brain is a tree with leaves, Haney wrote in his study, deprive a human being of social relationships and your brain physiologically changes into a tree in the dead of winter—just a web of lifeless branches.
Winter has arrived.
These past four weeks I’ve been studying how to write the personal essay with Chelsey Clammer. Chelsey was the Fall 2019 writer-in-residence at the Jack Kerouac House in Orlando, Florida. She is also a winner of the Red Hen Press nonfiction award and by the way her online classes rock!
One of her assignments was to write your own obituary. It reminds me of that hilarious scene where Tom and Huck attend their own “funeral” where they eavesdrop from the choir loft. As the minister paints a perfect portrait of the boys, Tom and Huck can hardly recognize who the cleric was describing. Their “deaths” had suddenly turned them into “saints”.
One writing exercise that’s aligned with writing your own obituary is writing one using only six words. In six words, how would you sum up your life? I came up with a few possibilities of my own:
I did the best I could!
Sought the sublime in every sunrise.
Why didn’t I have more fun?
But the one I like the most is: I finally learned how to forgive.
I’ve been working all month with a physical therapist to thaw a frozen shoulder that’s gotten progressively painful. Every time I raise my hand to reach for something, my delts clench, I can’t complete the motion, and it feels like my arm is on fire. The problem originated with an injury I sustained about ten years ago. I was swimming at Mahukona—an old, abandoned harbor that’s a great place to snorkel. I had just finished my swim and was climbing up the metal ladder when a rogue wave struck. I didn’t have time to scream as I turned my head and saw a wall of water heading toward me. All I could do was brace for the hit, clinging to the rails with both hands. I lost my grip, barely holding on with my left hand while my right side spun back 180 degrees and was slammed against the concrete pier—my shoulder taking the hit. Now, when I write by hand for my timed freewriting sessions, pain shoots up and down my arm and my fingers cramp. I’m getting better though, thanks to Yana and all the good folks at Body Therapy Pro in Kapaau.
But I also discovered that writing about my painful shoulder could become part of the healing process, too. One morning, I stepped out on my lanai and saw an enormous Black Witch Moth. Here’s the poem I wrote about the gorgeous nocturnid, whose apparent saga of endurance promised hope for my own injured ‘wing’.
Under the Eaves
He arrived on purpose,
I was certain.
His presence was
inscrutable as a question
whispered in another tongue
that streaked the air
with plumeria and dawn.
A Black Witch Moth
A lover of the liberating darkness
he was stranded
by the rays of morning
stalwart and unmoving, clinging
with his three pairs of legs
under the eaves of my house
a silent omen from the night.
His colossal wings,
iridescent ebony scales,
were an inky Rorschach test
asking me to make meaning
of what I could see
in his paisley and black
Then I saw the tattered right wing
frayed as fabric scissored
by bird beak
who knew what predator?
Yet he had survived.
Is bigger always better? Or is it true that good things also come in small packages?
Last Saturday I spoke at the Hawaii Writers Guild annual dinner. I was asked to explain what Flash Fiction was all about, since many of my writing colleagues were unclear about the genre. Just in case you were wondering, here’s what I said–
Flash Fiction goes by many names—sudden fiction, micro fiction, tiny stories, drabble… It’s been around for years—think fables, proverbs, parables. But in this new age of twitterature, short shorts are becoming more prevalent in literary circles. Its primary feature is brevity and is restricted to anywhere between six and 1,000 words, depending on the editor or journal. The challenge of bare-bones fiction is to tell a complete story in which every word is absolutely essential and not one syllable is out of place. It’s harder than you might think!
This month I’m taking an online class in ‘expressive writing’ with poet, Susan Vespoli . Want to try expressive writing yourself? Set a timer for 15 minutes, write freely without judgment, paying no mind to grammar or spelling, and never allow your pen to leave the page. Let your words flow. That’s it!
Want to listen to an archived recording of my interview on Radio Kohala, KNKR 96.1 FM? Click here and find Tutu’s Talk Story program listed for January 16, 2020. I discuss my life as a minister and read two of my flash fiction stories.