My body lay perfectly still in savasana (also known as corpse pose). Like a comforting afghan, the weight shrouded my body completely, from my core outwards to my extremities. I could sense pressure even at the tips of my fingers, but my breath was comfortable, balanced. I wasn’t afraid, yet from the start of our first pose my curiosity had been ignited, so I still held the slightest tension in my chest and an odd awareness that I wasn’t used to having during this part of my yoga practice.
This was exactly what was meant to happen, though I wasn’t yet aware of it. I was diving into the curious through the stillness, and I welcomed the wonder it stirred within my questioning soul.
It was the longest night of 2018—Winter Solstice—and adjacent to a full moon, which, according to our guides for the night, was particularly auspicious. The room was warm, both in temperature and adornment. Autumn colors of fiery orange, burnt ochre, buttery yellow, and regal purple embellished the walls and windows; twinkling lights framed the doorway. Fifteen men and women began settling down onto yoga mats alongside blankets and water bottles as the two guides introduced themselves.
The first, Karen, described what we would be doing during her session: entering the stillness. Together we would be exploring the shadows—the other side of light, the inside out—in order to reveal what the dark had to offer and to prepare our personal welcomes for the returning light.
She led us to stand, form a ring of clasped hands, and close our eyes. Strong and fluid, a song slid into my ears like tiny ripples. It flowed in and out of the spaces between us, encircling our hearts and lifting our spirits as we followed the lead and joined in as a whole. The lyrics conveyed healing and unity, and I felt myself slipping into a calmer state, warmly thinking of the people in the room, though most of them were strangers to me.
As it ended, a reflective silence spread palpably over all of us. Karen waited until the fidgeting subsided and we were comfortable on our mats once more. Then, she led us in a guided meditation that filled my body with peace and gratitude.
Katrina’s session was a more physical representation of meditation and was a powerful reminder that breath is so much more than inhale-exhale-repeat. Breathing is full of dynamic energy, she explained, a vigorous reminder that we are alive.
Katrina is an incredible yoga teacher who specializes in pranic breathing and other energy flow techniques. I was a little foggy-headed from the stillness of Karen’s session, but soon, the guided energetic breathing brought me back into focus and into an intriguing and hypnotic headspace.
Initially, we breathed deeply in patterns, allowing ourselves to be vulnerable in our space together. Then we were standing up and “holding” energy between our open palms, moving it around our bodies and filling the room. At first I was simply enjoying the movement, taking note of how my body felt with each bend and sway. Then something interesting happened. The trance-like state took over completely, and with each movement, I began to feel an increasingly voracious desire to interact with this energy. I could feel it now, seeing striations in a shape taking form. I had never experienced anything like this before, though I have most certainly felt the rejuvenating power of chi and pranic breathing.
When savasana started, I had that covetous itch that always begs for the perfect last pose. I get that tickle of fear that says, Don’t get too comfy on this mat, little girl. Before you know it, the lights will turn on and you will lose all of this and be back in the real world.
But that didn’t happen. It was the longest, most fulfilling savasana of my life. I was able to fully surrender, and that’s when I felt the weight begin to stretch over me, when my breathing had slowed and was calm; when I released all expectation.
Later that evening, I asked Katrina about the physical sensation I had felt during savasana. She looked at me, surprised, and asked me to explain further. I described it and said that it was different from my past experiences, such as crying or having rushes of emotion during corpse pose. In fact, I’ve experienced this many times and have felt it cathartic and comforting (after I researched it and found that I was not a complete weirdo for having these outbursts…in fact it is quite common after a powerful yoga class). But this was new. Katrina then told me that this was a phenomenon that sometimes happened to those who are truly able to drop into their yoga. It is the “weight” of the session waiting to be fully absorbed; it’s the ultimate act of conscious surrender; is it true yoga nidra:
“In yoga nidra, the first experience to be awakened is the feeling of heaviness. Physical heaviness is a whole body sensation which accompanies deep musculo-skeletal relaxation. For deep seated tensions and contractions within the network of postural muscles, the instructions “your body feels so heavy that it is sinking into the floor” acts as a command from the brain, encouraging them to ‘let go’ and release their residual burden. Only then is the total weight of the body surrendered completely into the earth, producing the distinct experience that the body is actually merging with the surface on which it is lying.” –Yoga Magazine
And so I found myself having the most transformative night of yoga in my life under a full moon on the darkest day following a few dark months (Being laid off, having both parents in the hospital, experiencing the growing pains of several relationships, etc.). I took the deepest of breaths in and exhaled my immense gratitude for this night.
“A Douche Named Gary” is a piece I wrote for my fiction class at Portland Community College. Feel free to send me any critiques or suggestions. I really had fun writing this piece; I hope you enjoy!* Perhaps there’s a disembodied soul twin up there in the great unknown, designing my next plot twist—an effort to create an arc from the cause and effect that flows through my narrative like salmon hurling themselves up the fish ladder to reach something they can’t see but know is their destiny. I feel like I’ve been hurling myself towards something for years, but I’ve never been able to precisely pinpoint the end game. I was dragged around in the same whirlpool for ages with the same fish, and then the universe abdicated that program quite abruptly. No effort on my part; no disassembly required; no cessation guide.
Sometimes I wish She really was up there doing the heavy lifting, writing my destiny for me, but that would take away the roller coaster of fun that is free will, now wouldn’t it? I imagine the author’s swiftly scribbled notes of my narrative arc, metaphysical coffee at Her side. Maybe a spiritual parrot or something as Her muse. And so, Her Cliffs Notes. 1:4 Cause: In a most formal manner, I was fired from the job I had held for over a decade. The act itself was the very definition of ceremonious and dignified: robotic, clean, unemotional, and professional, down to the silent perp-walk-style escort to the elevator and the fact that I was not allowed to clear out my desk. The desk I had earned—the one by the window I had fought for. Fourteen fucking years at that company and they wouldn’t even give me the courtesy of closure. Add to that the random IT heavy sitting outside the Conference Room of Doom like one of those Easter Island statues, waiting for each of the seven Disposables to depart. Why? Because he had big muscles and could man-handle me, should I attempt to run away from this scenario? Little old me, with my backpack and sensible walking shoes fleeing down the hallway towards what? Where would I go? Were they afraid I’d race around shrieking and weaving my way between cubicles and offices, yelling at the top of my lungs the corporate world version of “The British are coming! The British are coming! Protect yourselves and back up your personal files now!” Was it because they figured they needed to take extra precautions with the woman who is known for smiling through conflict, for her excellent communication skills, and for her continuous positive interactions with colleagues, vendors, and upper management? Effect: Tears. Not just roll-down-your-cheek driblets. Ones that are akin to the water feature at the park, with salty, chlorinated bursts firing in all directions from my blue-green eyes (they look more green than blue when they are wet) adding gasps for air that feel as though the shock itself is clutching my chest, my neck, my esophagus. That day there was a ripping apart of a work-family built on over a decade of lessons, laughs, and learning, a displacement of the love and respect and journeying. Yes, anger and drama and tumult as well. All of those came out in a forceful spillway of emotion. 2:4 Cause: I decided I would take on this life change like a boss. I was going to be positive and productive and create the life of my dreams! My counselor told me I should take this opportunity to create a new and improved structure for my days. At first, I optimistically told myself I would leap out of bed every morning, perky and full of gumption, making my coffee, and setting about my day, which would include extensive job searching, pensive writing, a hearty workout, and healthy cooking. I would field phone calls from rabid recruiters and have my pick of top corporate positions by the end of the month. My LinkedIn feed would scream YOU ARE AMONG WINNERS! Effect: They call the corporate version of organizational metamorphosis Change Management. There are books, Ted Talks, thought leaders, all which spew out how best to move forward and in what order, but I didn’t have an infographic or manual to explain what I was supposed to do with all of my recent instability. Rather than the independent, bouncy woman I expected to be, I soon discovered that I struggled to get motivated and had no use for this newfangled routine-in-a-box method my counselor proposed. I wanted to sleep in every day. I wanted to eschew all things corporate. I wanted to make time for cooking and dancing and singing and tv marathons. I rediscovered a whole set of friends that didn’t work the 9-5. Everyone seemed to understand that I needed some time to get myself back together. I’d been working since I was 17! But in no time at all, feelings of guilt about being slothful poked up out of the weeds. Why didn’t I have a plan worked out by now? Maybe I needed to pray. Speak with a career consultant. Use essential oils. Get a whiteboard. I started with applying for unemployment, but I screwed even that up at first. This, of course, was followed by a flurry of letters from the unemployment office stating that I was a dumbass and to restart my claim next week, thereby leaving me without income for several weeks in a row. 3:4 Cause: I had experienced a trauma. My grief was ambidextrous. During the most inopportune of times, my grief showed up to say hello. It blazed a path towards anguish, then took a sharp turn in the direction of the briny depths of sorrow, a true buzzkill at a party, which is, of course, where it manifested itself one breezy evening around the campfire. How can you be sad around a campfire? Take one part hard cider, one part homespun guitar trio playing songs of love and loss, and one part grief stage four: depression, and you get tears of the traumatized. But it’s all about the process, right? Effect: At first it didn’t seem like healing at all. It was horrifying. Fuck the five stages. Soon I began socially drinking much more often, because how else do you stay connected with your old coworkers when you can’t just walk down the hall? What better way to connected than over a vodka soda? So I found myself a little more than tipsy at a group happy hour with a bunch of old work buddies on a Thursday. How many times can you earnestly say, “Yeah I’m great! Taking some time to figure out what I really want to do!” Sipping drinks took time away from having to speak. 4:4 Cause: This is where I met Gary. The man was a strange combination of archetypes—nerd and jock in one. He had a very straight-laced look, complete with computer backpack and scooter at his side. But then, muscles growing out of muscles. Generally, I prefer an intellectually strong man over one who can pick me up and throw me onto the bed, but I could not tear my eyes away from those muscles. When I looked up into his bespeckled face, dark eyes, and his teeny tiny black mohawk, I felt a surge of liquid courage fight its way from my gut to my lips. I put on what I thought was a sexy smirk and asked him if I could take a ride on his scooter. He responded by ordering two shots of whiskey and telling me, “Only nice girls are allowed to ride my scooter.” I grabbed both shots and tipped them down my throat, double fisted. “That’s too bad.” Staying true to his word, he did not let me ride the scooter that night, but I ended up riding him all night. Effect: At first I didn’t even know he worked with my old employer. I had thought he was just a random guy at the bar that night. No one that I knew was talking to him, and he wasn’t socializing with my previous floor-mates. I figured out later it was because everyone was furious that he (and six others) had hopped into our old seats so easily, without acknowledgment (or really, knowledge) of the culling that had occurred the week before he started. A former colleague told me that a douche named Gary was sitting at my old desk by the window, but it didn’t even occur to me that he could be the new me. Two weeks—fourteen days—after our one night stand, I found out he was my replacement. He was performing my job. He was perched at my desk, kicking his feet up on my storage ottoman. Maybe watering my succulent that had never been returned. The new me had been inside me. And, just like my job of fourteen years, there was no further contact.
*While this piece is based on actual events, it is a work of fiction.
The Flossin Magazine cover was brightly colored with art and titled, The Almighty Dollar. I looked through it casually, flipping the pages slowly until one stopped me. FEAR, in all capitals and bright red–my lifelong frenemy. Fear was always putting its nose where it wasn’t wanted. But this time, fear asked my permission; I had to say yes. It was an article on fear as a motivator. On the opposite page was a 5 Step Action Plan for understanding what fear was and what it meant. I immediately knew this article needed to be the provocateur for an important conversation at the next meetup of my monthly creative group.* The 5 Step Action Plan prompts were fantastic, and I knew the group would appreciate the opportunity to write out our thoughts on this exploration of our fear. Before I read the first step out loud, I decided we needed one more examination of our inner selves so that we could answer the prompts honestly and fully. I asked Colin and Hannah to write their lives alongside me. I wanted challenges, accomplishments, what made us the people we are today. There were no instructions on style, length, or format. I gave it 10 minutes on the timer. We began. I requested that we each read our stories aloud, to help give context of what was to come in the prompts. I chose to write mine as if it were a song. I read aloud, I am not my body. I am not what I see in the mirror. I am a spirit. I am joy. Am sorrow. Curiosity. Anger. Love. Generosity. I am the girl who hated her body, then tolerated it, then flaunted it, then was ashamed by it. On repeat. I am a 4-time half marathon runner. I am a belly dancer who has commanded the stage and shimmied audiences into hypnosis. I am a Quaker woman who appreciates the simplicity and peace-searchers in life. I am the woman who has cried over a million tears–they have baptized me. I have been a doormat and a victim and a fighter and a winner. I have learned my flaws don‘t define me but they have carved me. I am a writer who has accomplished many things and still has many words to share with the world. I am scared and brave–I am what has grown out of the well of the two of them when they have shouted their fear and courage into each other’s faces. I am that soul child. I dive into the unknown. I create a community so diverse and beautiful and bizarre and inspiring. No one could write a story like mine and yet I yearn to share it with the world; I am finally understanding the width of my soul-span; I see the depth of my heart-wake. I see the crinkles and the wrinkles of my emotional intelligence. I am me.
In case you’re wondering, the 5 Step Action Plan prompts are as follows:
Keep it Real: Identify what needs to change
Feel the Pain: Imagine the pain of not taking action
Feel the Pleasure: Envision the pleasure of your end game result
Plan & Commit: Identify the steps needed to make an action plan
Do It: Stop talking and planning and just do it
*I run a monthly creative group called “Focus: Creative — An uplifting community focused on cultivating your creative strategy.” The participants in this group have passions and creative goals, and they want peers to bounce ideas off of, or a sounding board for an issue that they are pondering. I saw a need for this community, so I built it. A year and a half later, we have a fantastic group of creatives! If you’re interested in joining us, leave your information in the comment form or drop a comment below.
After an incredible round of edits from my class at PCC, I’ve rewritten Tinderbeard into an even more dramatic, harrowing, and hilarious tale. Happy reading!
Boots and bags. The flotsam and jetsam of bus life during rush hour clogged the narrow aisle leading to the back of the aging city bus where a seat between a hipster in a skintight hoodie over tightly rolled jeans and a student somewhere in middle school range waited for me, the latter’s shaggy blonde Bieber hair blowing in the wind. The student chewed on a straw and looked out the window, dreaming perhaps of one day daring to kiss a boy or girl and having no opinion of me whatsoever. Hunched perilously over his phone, to the point I was afraid he might tip over and hit his head if we stopped too quickly, the hipster fixed an annoyed look on his face with a frown and furrowed brow. I understood that this was aimed at my presence, and while also I greatly appreciate the gift of personal space on the bus, it just wasn’t happening today.
Doing my best to remain within the confines of my seat, I looked straight ahead, taking note of the distinct differences in hats, jackets, and backpacks spread out in front of me. In relative terms, I was yet an unpolished public transit commuter, always searching for the best brands and hacks to make the commuter life easier. Do you do that? Fixate on something and feel the need to take a mental straw poll to see which people around you are doing it best? It turns out I need a backpack that functions the way Mary Poppins’ does–I’m still doing my research on that one. Often, I find myself getting lost in the faces of all these strangers, wondering how many connections are made (and lost) on public transit each day, thoroughly enjoying the opportunity to people-watch. This activity has played a large part in my dating life. Instead of sitting awkwardly across the table from a cup of coffee and a dull, glazed look in date #113’s eyes, I challenge them to call out a person and weave their life story. I can talk about myself for hours and never get tired, but I’ve learned that talking about oneself can be incredibly draining to the other party. Also, no matter how much your date is smiling and nodding, he is cringing on the inside and calling you names like Narcissistic Nina behind those eyes. Routing the conversation to a subject that is not listed on your resume is always a welcome change. Trust me, I’ve been online dating for over 10 years. My eyes rested on an impeccably dressed African-American man who had an utterly fantastic beard. He was also wearing those giant headphones that seem to block out not only outside sound, but sights, smells, and anything else that might interrupt a podcast. Perhaps an accountant? Attorney? Hmmm…talent scout with some sort of side hustle? A few stops later, I heard the familiar beeping of the wheelchair ramp. One by one, riders in the front stood up and made room for the white-haired, wheelchair-bound woman with bags sticking out at every angle. Riders bumped into each other to step out of the way, simultaneously looking around for other seats. Several of them, including the bearded man, began heading to the far back, where there were a few seats left—where I was sitting. Grasping the opportunity to study the man closer, I put my phone in front of my face and pretended to read something very important. It was longer than the average beard. Two silver streaks ran parallel down each side–very distinguished. Could be early forties but some people go grey in their thirties. The silver streaks seemed to flash in the sunlight, quite literally illuminating him as he stepped into the back half of the bus and took the seat on the other side of the hipster, which is when I realized who he was. Adrenaline rushed through me as I reached out to tap him on the shoulder, further ruffling the hipster’s free-range organic feathers. HA! I hadn’t planned where I was going to go after the salutation, but my arm was already in motion. It was it too late to turn back now. “Hey.” He turned towards me and, clearly surprised, replied, “Oh hey you! How’s it going?” The bus had paused at a stoplight right before the Broadway Bridge that would take us to the other side of the city. Taking advantage, Free Range stiffly stood up and stalked off, leaving a gaping hole between the bearded man and me. Making sure my curly sand-hued hair was posed perfectly on my shoulder before responding, I crossed my legs towards him and answered with slight heat in my cheeks, “Great, thanks. How’s it going with you?” Nailed it, I thought sarcastically. I noticed his eyes dipped to my chest before he responded. The barely perceptible move may have bothered me in the past. Unfortunately these days, my illusions of grandeur about finding the perfect man who didn’t objectify women were the size of a pea. Apparently, that was all he needed to open up a conversation. He remembered quite a bit about me: my passion for good grammar, my favorite neighborhood brunch place (we’d gone together on our first date), and that I enjoyed salsa dancing every once in a while. I was shocked at the number of details he was ticking off so casually. I remembered that he worked in IT or computers, something dough-handed like that at a company downtown-–though that second detail could be construed as a given, considering the bus’s trajectory. I guess I had made an impression on him. It made my heart corners curl up into a coy grin. While we spoke, I sat back and observed him. He had grown out his hair and styled it differently. Small twists dotted the top of his head. I liked it. Beards have always been an attraction for me, but today his seemed especially well-coiffed. His eyes were kind and he had a welcoming smile that was slightly bucktoothed–like mine. I called mine rabbit teeth and had absolutely hated them when I was younger. I even created a character based around my teeth: Chipper the Chipmunk. Chipper could sing and dance and entertain like nobody’s business. I think I gave Chipper 101 talents so that people would overlook the teeth. Later I realized they weren’t as terrible as I had made them out to be. People tell me these days that it’s part of my charm, and I’m finally understanding what they meant. Lightning fast, it seemed, the bus arrived at my stop. My eyes traveled up and down the aisle, at him and then away, as I gathered my things, wondering if he was interested in continuing the conversation. I had tried to make it obvious that I was disembarking by shuffling my backpack around conspicuously to see if he’d take the bait, but I didn’t hint strongly enough.
“Well.” I paused in case he wanted to interject. “Great to see you!” No dice. My bag slung over my shoulder, I lifted my body off the sticky plastic seat and waved my goodbye, immediately kicking myself for not being bold enough to say anything as soon as my Adidas hit the pavement. I wondered if he was watching as I sashayed out of sight. When I turned the corner, I whipped out my phone and typed “Tinder” in the search bar to see if anything came up. I labeled all of my Tinder dates “Tinder so-and-so.” Tinder Adam (smoker), TInder Ben (too clingy), Tinder Christian (not clingy enough), TInder Daniel (dumb as a Chia pet, with the same hair). How else did a serial-Tinderer keep track? None of the names seemed like they fit him. Shame me all you want, but I’d probably been on 10-13 more first dates since last summer–it shouldn’t completely come as a shock that I had no idea what his name was. And since stumbling upon him, I hadn’t stopped to ask myself if I was actually interested in this man, or if he was just going to end up being another write-up in my dating blog, just another number. Though the convenience of online dating seemed to create favorable odds, it had started to feel like shoe shopping. Five years ago I would have been horrified that I couldn’t remember his name. Now, sadly, it was practically expected.
I supposed it wasn’t meant to be, then. Neither of us had had the guts to speak up and ask the other out. Of course, I was assuming he was interested after all the things he remembered about me. Wouldn’t you? Who knows if I’d ever see him again. I had been running extremely late that day, and sometimes I took the other bus that came to my stop, and other times I went to work at 7:00 rather than 7:30…clearly this wasn’t going to turn into a thing. So I stopped trying to analyze and forgot about it.
A month later, I had missed my first two busses and was incredibly cranky on a Monday morning. I was carrying not only my backpack, but a cowboy hat and yoga mat, and I was beginning to sweat, knowing the bus was less than a minute away. My jacket half on and half off, I had run to the corner unabashedly and made it just in time for the 17 to pull up. I stormed on, breathing heavily and striding with fraudulent purpose, and headed toward the back as usual, but a silver glimmer caught my eye. It was TinderBeard! I stopped dead and did a military swivel in order to take the seat beside him. He looked at my cowboy hat pointedly and gave me The Look.
“It’s for a work event…” I trailed off, realizing that no amount of explaining would make this cowboy hat any cooler. I said it with a sheepish smile, enough to let him know he couldn’t faze me. We slipped into conversation easily once more, and I thought this HAS to be fate! We had both been running late that day, and sometimes I rode the other bus, and there had been a seat open next to him. This was totally a thing. Why are you so excited? You don’t even like him that much. Do you? What would you say if he asked you on a date? I needed to know if fate was trying to tell me something. I wanted to be wide open to the message, even if it turned out to be another flop.
He still wasn’t receiving my ESP message! Green light after green light sprinted past my eyes. Where are all the red lights when you need them?? I was definitely curious to know if he wanted to hang out again, and I was trying not to lose my nerve to do the asking before I had to get off the bus. Our three-date Tinder saga the summer before had ended amicably enough. At the time we met, we had simply been looking for different things; I refused to pursue something that may or may not pan out. I’m very cut and dried. Tinder is for finding a relationship–stop laughing–not friends. If I don’t see it going the way of romance, I don’t seek out a further connection. I am an old fashioned girl in a digital world. He preferred to look at it a little differently. His wish was to begin with something casual, sexually speaking, and if it turned into something else, great. If not, a bed buddy was just as good. I had declined his polite offer. But all had ended in what felt like friendship, though we never saw each other again.
And yet…it seemed like I should do something about this situation. It had been dropped in my lap so…casually, so…obviously, so…intentionally? It was do or die time. We were three blocks from departure.
“Well.” I paused. “Let me know if you ever want to hang out!” I offered. I couldn’t bear to put it in the form of a question. This way he had an easy out, and didn’t have to respond yes or no to my face.
To my surprise, he quickly replied, “Sure, but I don’t have your number anymore.” I whipped out my phone and typed his number in.
Several hours later I texted him. I wasn’t sure what to say, exactly, about his name having left my head many months before. Smiling to myself and realizing I had absolutely nothing to lose, I wrote, “This is Becky from the bus this morning. I have to admit…I have forgotten your name.” Blushing smile emoji.
Two words in response: “Thank God.” I released a sigh from deep within and continued to read, “Me too, and I was going to play it off until you texted me.” Laughter emoji. The best relationships are built on honesty. Maybe this could be the beginning of something. Did it have to be a dating thing? What if it just floated out there, unknown but still having form? Maybe I could afford to be a little less cut and dried this time.
This short piece was written in the jungles of Costa Rica, about two and a half hours’ drive from San Jose, weather / traffic / landslide permitting. This was my second trip to my family’s permaculture property in Lanas, VerdEnergia Pacifica, where the nearest neighbor is several kilometers away and we sleep in open air structures, listening to the sounds of the night. A full telling of my experience will follow in the next few days after I get my bearings back.
In the meantime…
I walk my eyes from front to back, methodically. Over creek, through canopy of wide-heavy planks, colors of the jungle peek through fronds–the fuchsia, the amarillo, a population of green vast as the ocean’s blues.
I find the twist in my stomach questions many flavors of life; tongue stumbles on unknown textures, prickle here, tickle there, sour-sweet thing with no known ceiling. Sun blinds the limits of the jungle, and the moon illuminates mischievous beings.
Hello! It’s been a while since I’ve written anything for This Curious Universe. For those who have read my work consistently over the years and have reached out, I am so appreciative of your support and encouragement. I am still Curious! Life just happens at a speed faster than I can run some days, and sadly, extracurricular creativity can be shoved to the side because it fits easily under the laundry…the dishes…grocery store…you understand.
These days, outside of my day job as an events and communications associate, my writing energy has been moving in the direction of fiction. Though I consider myself more of a nonfiction writer, I find incredible value in taking courses across the board at Portland Community College. For the last two terms, I’ve been taking Elements of Fiction. That’s right—same course, same teacher, two terms in a row. The instructor, Wes Griffith, is funny, empathetic, highly motivational, well-read, and downright magnificent. I presented this latest piece last week in class. I recieved creative, useful feedback and can’t wait to sit down and dive into the changes.
And so I present my latest, as yet unedited, based on true events, short fiction: TinderBeard
Boots, bags, the flotsam and jetsam of bus life clogged the narrow aisle leading to the back of the city bus where a seat between a hipster in a skintight hoodie and a student somewhere in middle school range waited for me. The student chewed on a straw and looked out the window, dreaming perhaps of one day kissing a girl and having no opinion of me whatsoever. Hunched perilously over his phone, to the point I was afraid he might tip over if the bus stopped too quickly, the hipster fixed an annoyed look on his face with a frown and furrowed brow. While I understood greatly that personal space was the most prized possession on the bus, it wasn’t happening today.
Doing my best to remain within the confines of my seat, I looked straight ahead, taking note of the distinct differences in hats, jackets, and backpacks. In relative terms, I was yet an unpolished commuter, always searching for the best brands and life hacks to make the commuter life easier. Do you do that? Get fixated on something and feel the need to take a mental straw poll to see which people around you are doing it best? Often, I find myself getting lost in the faces of all these strangers, wondering how many missed connections are made on public transit each day.
My eyes rested on an African-American man who had an utterly fantastic beard. He was also wearing those giant headphones that seemed to block out not only outside sound, but sights, smells, and anything else that might interrupt a podcast.
A few stops later, I heard the familiar beeping of the wheelchair ramp. One by one, riders in the front stood up and made room for the wheelchair-bound woman who was boarding. Several of them began heading to the far back, where there were a few seats—where I was sitting. Grasping the opportunity to study the beard closer, I put my phone in front of my face and pretended to read something very important. It was longer than the average beard. It had two silver streaks running parallel down each side–very distinguished. The silver beard streaks seemed to flash in the sunlight as he stepped into the back half of the bus and took the seat on the other side of the hipster, which is when I realized who he was.
Adrenaline rushed through me as I reached out to tap him on the shoulder, further ruffling the hipster’s free-range organic feathers. (You like that? I just thought of that one all on my own.)
He turned towards me and, clearly surprised, replied, “Oh hey you! How’s it going?”
The bus had paused at a stoplight right before the bridge that would take us to the other side of the city. Taking advantage, the hipster stiffly stood up and stalked off, leaving a gaping hole between the bearded man and I. Making sure my light brown curly hair was posed perfectly on my shoulder before responding, I crossed my legs towards him and answered with slight color in my cheeks, “Great, thanks. How’s it going with you?” Nailed it, I thought to myself sarcastically. Couldn’t think of anything more creative?
Apparently that was all he needed to open up a conversation. He remembered quite a bit about me: my passion for good grammar, my favorite neighborhood brunch place (we’d gone together the first time we met), and that I enjoyed salsa dancing every once in a while. I was shocked at the amount of details he was ticking off so casually. I remembered that he worked in IT/computers/something dough-handed like that at some company downtown–though that second detail could be construed as a given, considering the bus we were riding on. I guess I had made an impression on him! It made my heart corners curl up into a coy grin as the exchange continued.
His hair was longer than I remembered. Small twists dotted the top of his head. I liked the new style. The beard had always been an attraction for me, but today it seemed especially well-coiffed. His eyes were kind and he had a welcoming smile that was slightly bucktoothed–like mine. I called mine rabbit teeth and absolutely hated them when I was younger. Now people tell me it’s part of my charm. I finally understood what they meant.
Lightning fast, it seemed, the bus arrived at my stop. My eyes travelled up and down the aisle, at him and then away, as I gathered my things, self-consciously wondering if he was interested in continuing the conversation. I had tried to make it obvious that I was disembarking, to see if he’d take the bait and ask me out, but I didn’t hint strongly enough.
“Well, great to see you!” My bag slung over my shoulder, I lifted my body off the plastic seat and waved my goodbye, immediately kicking myself for not being bold enough to say anything as soon as my Adidas hit the pavement.
When the bus had cleared from view, I whipped out my phone and typed in “Tinder” to see if anything came up. I labeled all of my Tinder dates “Tinder John,” Tinder Christian, (In case you’re wondering, yes I most certainly do sing Sister Christian in my head every time I saw that name.) Tinder Richie… How else did a serial-Tinderer keep track? None of the names seemed like they fit him. Shame me all you want, but I’d probably been on 10-13 more first dates since last summer–it shouldn’t completely come as a shock that I had no idea what his name was.
I supposed it wasn’t meant to be, then. Neither of us had had the guts to speak up and ask the other out (Of course, I was assuming he was interested after all the things he remembered about me. Wouldn’t you?), and who knows if I’d ever see him again. I had been running extremely late that day, and sometimes I took the other bus that came to my stop, and sometimes I went to work at 7:00 rather than 7:30…clearly this wasn’t going to turn into a thing.
Until a month later. I had missed my first two busses and was incredibly cranky that Monday morning. I was carrying not only my backpack, but a cowboy hat and yoga mat as well. My jacket half on and half off, I had run to the corner unabashedly and made it just in time for the 17 to pull up. I stormed onto the bus, breathing heavily with purpose and headed toward the back as usual, but a silver glimmer caught my eye. It was TinderBeard! I stopped dead and did a military swivel in order to take the seat beside his. He looked at my cowboy hat pointedly and gave me The Look.
“It’s for a work event…” I trailed off, realizing that no amount of explaining would make this cowboy hat any cooler. I said it with a sheepish smile though, enough to let him know he couldn’t faze me. We slipped into conversation easily once more, and I thought that it HAD to be fate! We had both been running late that day, and sometimes I rode the other bus, and there had been a seat open next to him. This was totally a thing.
He still wasn’t receiving my ESP message! Traffic light after traffic light darted past my eyes. I was dying to know if he wanted to hang out again, and I was trying desperately not to lose my nerve to do the asking before I had to get off the bus. Our three-date love saga last summer had ended amicably enough. At the time we met, we had simply been looking for different things; I refused to pursue something that may or may not pan out. He looked at it a little differently. His wish was to begin with something casual, sexually speaking, and if it turned into something more serious, great. If not, a casual bed buddy was just as good. I was a little more old fashioned, and so had declined his polite offer. But all had ended in what felt like friendship, though we never saw each other again.
It was do or die time. We were three blocks from departure.
“Well…let me know if you ever want to hang out!” I offered.
Immediately he replied, “Sure, but I don’t have your number anymore.” I whipped out a piece of paper and scribbled as he recited his number to me.
Several hours later I texted him. I wasn’t sure what to say, exactly, about his name having left my head many moons ago. Smiling to myself, I wrote, “This is Brandy from the bus this morning. I hate to admit this, but I have forgotten your name.”
Two words in response: “Thank God.” I released a sigh from deep within and continued to read, “I forgot yours too, and was going to play it off until you texted me.”
Great relationships are built on honesty. This could be the beginning of a beautiful thing, TinderBeard.
Yesterday I woke up and walked into the living room where two adorable but devilish towheaded Venezuelan/Norwegian preteen sleepyheads began shushing me so that they could go back to sleep on my couch.
“It’s so early, Tia,” one of them muttered. I wanted to remind them sooo badly about every time I’d slept over at their place, trying to ignore the inevitable as their curious heads bobbed over me at 5:15 AM, “whispering” about a fingernail’s distance from my ear to see if I was awake yet.
Sweet voices saying, “Mommy said not to wake her up,” “I want some milk,” “Go see if she’s awake yet.” “Tia, are you awake yet?” I’m awake. But now that the tides had turned, they weren’t having any of it.
So instead of shoving them off my couch, I made eggs, put on my running tights and shoes, and gathered the rest of my gear while their angel of a mother finally succeeded in getting them out of bed. This is why I like being the auntie. I get all the fun of sleepovers with the littles, but mom is there to put her foot down while I get the luxury of making my eggs in relative peace.
Shortly after my adopted herd left, I met up with Chrissy at our regular spot.
“You know we’re doing the whole thing today, right? No backing down. We’re doing the loop,” meaning once we crossed over the bridge, we had arrived at the point of no return. On this particular route, if you ran the out and back way, it was approximately 7.5 miles. If you were brave enough to get to the bridge and decide to keep on going, you would cash in at just until 9 miles. Ugh. I knew we had to do it. Chrissy was training for her next half marathon and I…I just needed a running buddy, and I was enough of a glutton for punishment to agree to this weekly torture. Don’t get me wrong, I like running. I even sometimes get that runner’s high. And it’s fantastic to be able to spend two hours catching up with my friend, since we very rarely see each other outside of running. But there is a lot of that two hours where I’d really like to be sleeping or watching TV. Funny how something so miserable on your body and mind as running can dig into your soul and refuse to let go, no matter how much you beg it. Yep. Running is like that.
Our glamorous trailhead at Springwater Corridor
So we ran. And ran. And ran. The sun came out and I started sweating. I peeled off my layers while Chrissy kept her two long sleeved ones firmly on. We got to the bridge and didn’t even want to give ourselves the chance of forfeit, so we kept on. We chatted about work, my dating life, her kids, group gossip, and when the bridge that would lead us to the end appeared, we gave yelps of hallelujah and ran on.
When I got home, I had a few hours to stretch and get ready for my next event. I was going to a wedding reception. I groaned because I knew this would require heels. Let me tell you something, ladies. No one tells you that when you start running, your feet will never again look as pretty as they once were. I have a bunion that I’ve named Bert, and he was not at all pleased that I had to put on my tight black ankle booties. But it had to be done. Weddings are a great place to meet available men, right? I had to be at least tall enough to see them while I stood in the crowd, wiping my eyes over my friends’ nuptials. Bert expressed his frustration with me the moment I got out of the car, so I didn’t stay as long as I’d have liked to, but at least I got to drop off my gift, hug the happy couple, and scan the crowd for eligible bachelors before hobbling away.
Upon returning home for the second time that day, I set about organizing the rest of my day. I had an application for a summer writing workshop due at midnight that evening. I had started two of the three parts, but they were far from being finished, and demanded several hours’ work. I also had to start making the bone broth, which is quite the process. It was my inaugural voyage on such a process, but I had my faithful first mate, Lisa, with me to help. (…I’ll be honest, she pretty much did the whole thing.) This included taking out the chicken that we’d cooked for the broth, shredding it for our “healthy” nachos, then putting back all the inside parts and using that as the stock base. Dinner was an ungodly level of amazing, but I couldn’t really enjoy it since I had to throw the dishes into the sink the second I was done and get to work on the fourth and final project of the evening: an application to the Tin House Summer Workshop. It was the last night before the application was due, but to be fair I had only just learned about it two weeks prior, and in those two weeks I’d also been researching Master’s Degree programs. Suffice it to say, I had a few things going on.
Sans nap, and too late for any additional caffeine, I was struggling. My body was saying No, no, no! You ran nine miles! You deserve a break! My mind was saying You’ve got this, tiger!! Thank God I allowed the mind to win, though I really didn’t have a choice in the matter. The deadline was midnight and it was well past 8:00 PM. I cracked open my computer and hopped to it.
I finished the application with an hour and 12 minutes to spare. I went to bed and laid there WIDE AWAKE because my adrenaline was so high. Today I’m taking my caffeine intravenously.
I have this voice that talks down to me sometimes. It questions my worth. It questions my life choices, job choices, actions. It questions everything. It mocks me when I’m down. I hate that I even acknowledge it, but I do. I don’t feel like I’m enough.
And then I have a day like this, where I can honestly say I used every single second to move myself forward towards a better Becky. Every single second. I bet even CEOs can’t say that all the time. So I lift my head up and thank myself for being exactly who I was meant to be.
Eight years ago we forged a friendship over running. Six years ago I ran my first half marathon with Alicia at my side. Four years ago Erin, Alicia, and I began this journey of the Hot Chocolate Run. And this year, we chose once again to foster our community through our love of running…and chocolate. This race is no joke; we a run 15k (9.3 miles) on brutal hills and questionable weather. It’s truly one of the hardest races we’ve ever done–so why do we keep coming back? Because after running that demented race, we get UNLIMITED chocolate. Drinking chocolate, dark chocolate, milk chocolate, and amazing chocolate-flavored gear. Oh, and we get a tech sweatshirt and a plethora of scrumptious swag in addition to all deliciousness.
Go ahead and let that sink in and let me know if you want to join us next year.
Upon arrival at the hotel, March 2, 2018. READY FOR CHOCOLATE!
So this morning, three friends left bright and early and headed north. We’ve traveled together up and down the west coast, from San Diego to Seattle and east to Bend. These ladies are my running rock stars.
When you reach your thirties, there is a level of entertainment that shifts. Whereas we used to go out on Saturday nights and do body shots, shake our booties, bring home boys, and wake up feeling like we swallowed metal-spiked hairballs laced with arsenic, now we recognize a more…sophisticated palate. Instead of body shots, we train our bodies to run for miles. Instead of staying up all night, we pass out at a reasonable hour and get a few amazing nights of sleep. We try unique restaurants and giggle for hours.
And I’m digging it. I love the traditions we’ve created: our yearly brunch at Toulouse Petit for their incredible Cajun food, the trip to the flagship Nordstrom to devour the fashionable deals, and all the adventure walks we take along the way. Of course we always stay at the adorable Maxwell Hotel, which happens to be right next to Key Arena/Space Needle AND the finish line.
Community. Chocolate. Bliss.
This is the second short story I wrote at “The Next Season” writing retreat at Hidden Lake Retreat in Eagle Creek, Oregon. It was inspired by the picture below, and got a few laughs when I read it aloud. I hope I’m half as sassy when I’m their age.
Photo courtesy of Pinterest
In the era we grew up in, it wasn’t expected for us to be giddy in this next step. In our time, we were supposed to be somber grannies, holding our breath every second until the grandchildren burst through the heavy door of the house that Edgar and I designed ourselves.
Happiness was not to be ours once our partners passed. By the time I hit retirement, I was supposed to be a semi-professional in knitting and cross-stitch, staring at the picture of my wedding day that hung over the television while making scarves with soft wool.
Instead I am a competitive synchronized swimmer in the group we named the Gorgeous Grand-Goddesses. You didn’t expect that, did you? Did you know we have two gold medals and a bronze? No, not the Olympics—Regional Championships. After all, we’re in our seventies and our bodies do have their limitations.
Long before Edgar passed, the girls and I decided to bunk together once our husbands all made the long trip south.
It wasn’t the plan to end up here, but we decided that my house worked best. It was plush with the warmth of familial love and welcomed the other two girls with open arms.
We each had our own bedroom to decorate as well as a training room. Jane Fonda videos, resistance bands, and yoga mats float among pictures of the Grand-Goddesses and yes, some cross-stitch. That’s Mary’s area; I fought it briefly before compromising with her: if they were cross-stitches of Pierce Brosnan or any of the Beatles, they could stay.
She refused my suggestions, and so we ended up with posters of the Beatles on one side and framed beach scenes on the other, an echo of the debates I had with my husband. And yet, here we are, giddy.