Saturday, December 31, 2016

Happy New Year!

Damyang Bamboo Museum Trail
Instead of writing a story, I thought I would add a regular post (for once). This year has gone by so quickly that I sometimes wonder if it is the end of the year already. At the change of the year, I like to think back to what it was like a year ago - where I was, my hopes and dreams. In doing so, I look into the new year to see what I want to continue, what I want to change, and what I want to pursue.

Not much has changed regarding hopes and dreams. In some cases, they've shifted slightly. Not gone, but just a different avenue. With the discontinuation of Azure Maris, Azure Lights and Shamrocks of Stone in October, I have had the time to evaluate what I write. Even writing the weekly short story has helped. They have given me a chance to explore worlds, characters and ideas I've wanted to try, but haven't found the means.

Also, this year, I rediscovered audio dramas. I had started listening last year, but as things are, I fell off until I found them again. Exploring this new medium is exciting because I can see wondrous possibilities. How to make what I see possible is more difficult.

A year ago, I wondered how I would make ends meet. I had had an interview for a job overseas, and surprisingly, I was accepted. Now, one year later, I am again seeking employment. My heart longs to write, but how to make writing pay proves to be a constant quest for myself. Over the course of the past year, I learned that I can work and write - it's a huge blessing for this writer who often finds one or the other neglected.

My path curves, and the distance is vague and misty. I often feel that I'm climbing a mountain. I know at the top will be a magnificent view, it's just hard work to achieve the goal. Other times, I feel like I'm not making any progress, and I fear that, instead, I have turned down the wrong path. It's in those moments where I have to re-evaluate what it is I'm supposed to do. Often, I find that I haven't turned wrong, I've just taken a side-path. I can see the main one ahead, and I'm still going in the right direction.

In other ways, the past year has been a wonderful experience filled with new views, culture and history. As the year has progressed, I have had the interesting experience of watching America through the eyes of others - the good and the bad.

I also managed to lose quite a bit of weight - more than I hoped I could. I still have about twenty pounds (ten kilos) to go, but I'm confident that I can achieve that goal.

It's these little victories that encourage me. Knowing that I did some things over the past several years I never thought possible - losing weight, paying off debt, being published - helps me to pursue more goals. It's the reflection of where I was to where I am which focuses my energy when I feel lost.

As the new year begins, and you take time to evaluate your own path, I hope you remember the good things as well as the bad. Don't only think about how you want to change this year, but what things do you want to remain the same? What goals do you have that are longer term? How will you achieve these goals?

I hope your new year will be a time of growth and surprise. I hope you take a chance with your art - submit, begin, rediscover. As the year progresses, remember that each step, no matter how small or how hard, is an important part of your journey. Sometimes we can hike an easy path; sometimes we have to climb a hard one. Each step is worth it in the long run because each step leads us further along the path.

Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 24, 2016

How the Gnomes Saved Santa

This is one of the few poems you will ever see me post. I don't normally write in poetic form, but around Christmas, it seems to be one of the better forms. The story of the gnomes was inspired by my students who were working on a class project, and this is the theme.


On Christmas Eve, while we enjoy our nog
Sitting beside the fire contemplating a Yule time log
Think of Splotch and Tom of Gnome Hollow,
Those frightened yet two brave fellow
Who, upon a cold winter night,
Saved Santa with reindeer might.
Reindeer might, of course you ask,
How can a reindeer in his might bask?
Listen then, of how the gnomes saved Christmas cheer
With help from Jun the bear and Rudolph the reindeer.

‘Twas many years ago,
Long before Santa around the world would go.
In those days only a few would hear
Of sleigh bells and hooves of reindeer.
Even creatures like gnomes could receive a present,
So Splotch and Tom to the North Pole went
To ask Santa to bring presents for all,
Though in a land of elves and reindeer they were small
No one would even stop to help
Poor Splotch and Tom who were too tired to yelp.

Eventually they found a bright and cheery place
Where all who lived there could see Santa’s jolly face.
“But, wait,” Splotch said.
“Something is not quite right in my head.”
Tom, wisely, gave no answer
For all knew Splotch was no wise sir.
“What’s the matter, Splotch, dear?”
“Two yellow green eyes from Santa’s house do peer.
Certainly, Tom could see near the ivied eaves,
Two yellow-green eyes among the leaves.

Goblins! Both gnomes rattled and quaked.
Goblins were known to enjoy gnomes raked
Over fires and topped with cranberries for their parties.
Books of recipes were called Golden Gnome Teas!
Loads of gnomes said goblins’ breaths were terrible!
Inescapable were their grips, or simply indescribable!
Now, only they had eyes of glowing yellow-green
Simply for seeing in lands ruled by the Goblin queen.
Any who found themselves locked with a Goblin stead
Was counted as good as dead.
  
“We need to flee!” said Tom.
“Warn someone they might have a bomb!”
Splotch scratched his fuzzy head and thought.
Elves and goblins had always fought,
So maybe there was something else to consider
In this land of snow and icy glitter.
“Shouldn’t we discover what they want?”
“What do you think they’ll do – invite over their aunt?”
Splotch didn’t answer so Tom threw his arms in the air.
“They’re going to kill Santa, or I’m not Tom Sunpear.”

At that moment, the door opened and out stepped
A Goblin the size of a bear with his speech prepped.
He cleared his throat, and rubbed a large mole.
“Hear me, inhabitants of the North Pole!
We have your Santa, and demand a ransom
Of one hundred thousand gold-covered gnome.”
“One hundred thousand gnomes?” Tom squeaked.
“Impossible,” said Splotch. “Chocolate hasn’t peaked.”
“There are two!” Someone yelled.
Splotch grabbed Tom as warnings belled.

“Where to now,” Tom huffed.
“Otherwise, we’ll be taken and stuffed
With goodies and morsels the Goblins make.”
“I’ve heard they feed prisoners well before they bake,”
Splotch observed as they walked Candy Cane Lane.
Wisdom dictated no response to such a claim.
They walked until they found a place to hide,
Somewhere small and tidy, but the door they tried
Was locked and no one was home.
Who would help the two little gnomes?

“You, know,” Splotch observed, “I’ve heard of a rarity,
A red-nosed deer who even in fog gives Santa clarity.”
“A red-nosed reindeer? Are you certain it’s not a tale?
These northerners, I’ve heard are quite bold. They’ll
Tell you a joke and a farce and make you believer
Until they say “Jokes R Us – We deliver!”
“Rudolph’s the deer! I remember well
How Gramps said he was a real swell
Fellow you helped anyone in need even when
The others said he wasn’t worth negative ten.”

Gramps, it should be said, was where
Splotch inherited his incredible pair
Of ears - for something had to hold in the air
Betwixt one side of his head and the other there.
Off to Rudolph’s they did ramble,
Hoping Splotch’s idea wasn’t merely a gamble.
Inside the stable where Rudolph rested,
They found him in the back where he bested
A polar bear in five seconds flat.
“That's him!” Splotch yelled pointing to the mat.

Rudolph and the bear turned to see
Who could be speaking with such glee.
“Why, it’s two little gnomes,” said the bear, Jun.
“What has brought you to this place with this goon?”
“Rudolph is not a goon!” Tom exclaimed.
“He’s a hero who would help Santa even if maimed.”
“Now, now,” Rudolph laughed, “what is the truth?”
“Goblins napped Santa for satiate their sweet tooth.”
Splotch then explained what had happened to Santa.
At the end Rudolph and Jun could only say, “Ta-ta.”

But, they readied themselves to enter Santa’s home,
With ropes for tying and tinsel for hiding the gnomes.
“Tinsel gives off its own aura,” Jun said. “Perfect for
Hiding those who don’t want to be found by the boar.”
“What’s that?” Splotch’s curiosity queried.
“Oh, the one who runs out undesirable to be ferried
Back down to warmer climates where all others dwell
Not fit to live in our little, cold winter swell,”
Jun had explained while they finished packing all
The items they needed, placing them beside the wall.

At Santa’s home, Jun stayed low and Rudolph went high
After all, a reindeer’s favorite place is where he can fly.
Ten goblins danced around Santa and Mrs. Claus
Whose mouths they had stuffed with snow-white gauze.
The fear and terror in Mrs. Claus’ eyes was enough to
Make poor Tom quake, shake and wonder what to do.
Surely, a small gnome wasn’t enough to fight goblins!
Then he heard the Goblin Song – Goblin Boblin.
“Boblin Goblin. Goblin Boblin gobblin’ gobblin’
Eat your spud again you Boblin Goblin!”
  
But, Rudolph would have nothing of that,
And Jun took a stance like on the mat.
He grunted and rolled his shoulders before
He ran full-steam into the door.
The mighty crash sent the goblins running away
Only to find the hooves of a reindeer making them stay.
“Who are you?” Demanded the leader in front.
“No one could have done this.” He laughed. “We want
Fifty thousand gnomes for each of you.”
“Not happening,” Jun said. “You’ll be goblin glue.”

Splotch and Tom led Santa and Mrs. Clause through
The house to a safe place while Rudolph and Jun, true
To their words sent the Goblins away from the Pole.
“Glue?” Santa asked. “I thought it wasn’t your role
To turn goblins into glue despite my thanks.”
Rudolph shrugged, “Christmas Eve has few fog banks
So Jun and I thought it best to practice, just in case,
Something happened and he had to chase
Someone through the city in order to protect
All those who lived here while others slept.”

Jun placed a paw on each gnome head.
“These two little gnomes were not content to hide in bed
While you and the Mrs. were in danger, Sir.
They came and found the one fly over the fir
And told us about what had happened to you.”
Santa smiled. “Imagine my surprise to meet two
Brave gnomes. But what has brought you here?”
“We want to ask you to bring presents to any who fear
The dark, Sir,” Tom said. To spread your Christmas light
Around the world to make it bright.”

And this is how every Christmas Eve, Santa goes
Around the world, delivering dolls and toys
To every man, woman and child.
To the strong and the mild.
He may wear a different outfit on Christmas night,
But, sure as the sun, he will be there all right.
So, rest your head and quiet your thoughts
As you think of all the items you have bought.
How will Santa show up in your home?
Will it be with the help of two small gnomes?



Saturday, December 17, 2016

Mirror Mirror Save Us All

What if mirrors were a way between worlds - a chance for us to look into another place without realizing it, or to look into the past? This story is based upon that idea. 

“Whatever you do, don’t open your doors,” Verity had warned the past ten nights.

She was the ghost who lived in the mirror from whence the knocking at 1:53 AM came every night. Her pale skin was dashed with freckles. Her hair auburn and wavy, but our eyes, our strange hazel colored eyes remained the same, as though they linked us through the mirror.

Still, I was in the twenty-first century, Scotland on a working holiday to research the Covenanters. I had rented the house for the six months, but the knocking at 1:53 AM, which began a month after I arrived, and had continued for the past two weeks began to wear on me. The house was old, cold, and more than a bit eerie even in the middle of the day.

Oddly it was the ornate mirror full-length mirror hanging in an upstairs bedroom which had convinced me to remain. Like a gateway into another time, it seemed to hide secrets within its glass. Secrets, apparently, only revealed themselves at 1:53 in the morning.

According to my research, and the information she could give me, Verity MacThenia, the woman in the mirror, had lived during the darkest days for the Covenanters. Her home was the one I rented, and she used its location as a way to shuttle Covenanters out of the city to the New World. Her own brother had been one of the most recent ones.

On the fifteenth day of the knocking, I waited for Verity. We could be doppelgangers, but I was black and she white. I was doubly mixed Mom would say – black father whose ancestors had been slave and master; Mom’s parents were white and black, with my mom appearing white. Both Mom and Dad were MacThenia’s though their connection extended all the way back to the same slave owner family. An uncle and nephew, so the story went.

Worse still was this uncle of hers, my ancestor it seemed, who haunted the territory around the house. “I spoke with a witch,” Verity had said the previous night. “She said the spells she gave me would protect the house up to your time.”

“What about after that?”

Verity had said nothing; the time she could talk having run out.

Now, I waited, books, print-outs and magazines scattered across my bed to keep me alert while I waited for my call. Seven minutes was all she had each night. A lot of time, but never enough it seemed, and things on her side were quickly deescalating.

“We’ll have to do something tomorrow,” she told me last night.

The research I found on them left me chilled. The man, set upon by burglars attempting to abduct Verity, had been found unconscious. He would die two days later without ever regaining consciousness. It was assumed the medical practices of the day finally did him in. Verity was never seen again after that night. She implied she would run to America, but I hoped I wouldn’t see her death at the hands of the burglars.

Verity’s scream woke me up.

I scrambled to me feet, cricket bat in hand before comprehension. My room was strangely quiet as though the eye of the raging storm. I could see lightning, but heard no thunder.

“Give me your hand!” Verity demanded, her hand flat on the mirror

I touched the mirror, and she yanked me through. “What … where?”

The oak door to her room shuddered and creaked from furious pounding from someone throwing himself at the door.

“You stay here; we have to fight him on both sides at once. I can fight the spirit, but you have to fight the living.”

She disappeared into the mirror back to my time.

Cricket bat in hand, I twirled it once. Daddy taught his children to defend their house no matter what. If an intruder enters your safe area, fight.

The door moaned and gave way to a boar of a man. He thundered for my name, but I answered with a crack across his temple.

Stunned, he stepped back, cleared his head and charged me.

Dodging the onslaught, I brought the bat down on his back sending him to his hands and knees. 
“Who are you?”

“Your nightmare.”

He rose and lunged for me, catching my arm, but I swung in close, stood my ground and flipped him again. In the mirror, bright flashes filled my room revealing Verity tiring. If my man and her spirit were one in the same, better to finish him before the burglars arrived.

“My niece …” the boar clutched his chest. “What is this?”

“Now, Krysta!” Verity yelled.

I swung the bat around and landed it in his face, hard enough to knock him out, but hopefully not kill him.

He sank first to his knee then crumpled to the floor.

Verity collapsed in front of the mirror. “We did it,” she whispered.

“He’s still breathing,” I answered.

“Not for long; one of the maids has been slowly poisoning him for the past year.” She lifted her hand to the mirror. “I can only manage one more time through.” She held up three fingers. “That’s all the travel the witch could give me for such a long journey. Only one of us can return home, and I for one am content where I am, though, I wonder where I am.”

Footsteps pounded up the stairs. “A burglar!” Someone yelled. “Send for help!”

I glanced around, ready for the next attack and backed to the mirror. “There’s a burglar in the house, Verity. He knocks your uncle out.”


Behind me, she laughed. “I only see one. Give me your hand, and I will save my burglar friend.” Moments later, I stood watching the servants comb the room, rescue the man and find nothing.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Soul's Mate

A little late, but here's another Year of Short Stories addition. This one came from several story starter ideas about soulmates. I liked the twists soulmates can have, and have wondered if soulmates were necessarily meant to be only romantic or could be platonic as well. 

“Six more hours,” Mom sang as she danced through the living room. “I can’t believe it in six more hours you’re going to be a grown-up, functioning member of society, Greye!”

“Funny how you put it,” I grumbled. “I thought I was already a grown-up functioning member of society.”

“Ah, you have a flat and a job, but you need a car, house and the sound of little feet.” She sighed for the umpteenth time. “He’ll be a good man. Hard-working, local boy.”

“You mean I need to live out here like you and Dad wanted did.”

“Exactly. Everyone, when they find their soulmates, moves out to the country to have children. It’s expected. Life’s better out here.”

Arguing with my mother proved pointless, so I put my feet up on the sofa and ignored her, as best one could ignore someone dancing around the house, occasionally picking up my wrist to check the time. All babies are born with a number on their wrists. It began counting down from their first breath to the day the babies would find their soulmates. Mine had finally wound down to six hours some thirty odd years after I was born.

For my sisters, one older and one younger, they had found their soulmates sitting in English lit classes on the same day, six years apart in age. Our older brother’s time had suddenly blinked out one day, leaving him as one of the many numberless ones while our younger brother had met his soulmate, a wonderful girl, six years, two days and twenty hours after he was born. To date, his was the quickest, and I the longest.

It wasn’t as exciting as my mother made it out to be. I had watched too many friends and family flounder on the days it came closer. Sometimes it was funny; sometimes it wasn’t. One of my closest friends in elementary school, Sara, had contemplated suicide when she learned her soulmate was another woman, Mary. Sara didn’t swing that way, and truthfully, neither had Mary, but they found friendship that proved soulmates didn’t always marry like my parents and sisters and brother had.
I had to come home for my brother’s wedding, and it was during the wedding, while everyone chatted about how they met their soulmates, the question arose when I would meet mine. When someone discovered I was under the twenty-four hour mark, pandemonium broke out at the wedding. Now, eighteen hours later, I still felt the repercussions of it all.

“I’m heading out,” I told my mom, as I slammed the door shut behind me. Growing up in the country had been nice, but I missed the ebb and flow of the city. Besides, Sara and Mary had opened a joint quilting show two days ago, but I hadn’t the time to see it.

My biggest fear wasn’t finding my soulmate to be the same gender – Mary and Sara had proven it could work even with both having wonderful husbands. No; for me, the biggest fear was to find out that my soulmate was everything I hated – narrowminded, adventureless and generally all my mother wanted for me.

Hard-working, humorous and with a broad outlook was all I desired, beyond that, I had little interest in anything. Didn’t want a short man, though unless he remained a friend. Could I even find a man who could remain with a platonic friendship? It wasn’t as though I didn’t have a sex drive, I just didn’t have an active one.

I parked and entered the gallery. The quilts were beautiful – Mary chose bright art quilts whereas Sara was more traditional. Four of the quilts were join pieces with Sara’s underlying traditional blocks countered with Mary’s wild artwork.

Oddly, all worked in a strange counterbalance.

“Amazing aren’t they?” Mary asked, standing to my right.

“Lovely,” I agreed.

“Heard you’re under a day.”

“Four … no,” I checked my wrist. “Fifteen minutes.”

Mary whistled. “Scared?”

I shrugged. How could one be scared of something unknown, but every day? “Intrigued.”

“You’ll be fine,” Mary assured me. “Happens to us all, eventually.”

I checked the clock on my phone. “Do you want me to pick up something for you two?”

“Thanks – we haven’t left all day, and I’m hungry.”

There was a coffee shop around the corner that had some of the best meals in the town. Standing in line, I looked around the area to see if anyone checked their wrists for the time. Two people from the register, a wheel bumped my leg, and I turned to see a boy, near fifteen grinning up at me from his wheelchair. “You’re beautiful,” he whispered.

A kid?! My soulmate was a freaking kid?! I looked at my wrist. No, still thirty seconds left. “Hi,” I said. “Thanks.”

“I didn’t think you’d be so beautiful,” he said, awe in his voice. “He’ll be thrilled.”

The door opened again and a man entered, he was near my age, but what side I couldn’t tell. His hair was dark, and thank heavens, he was taller than me. “Hello?” He offered a cock-eyed smile and looked at his wrist – the time had run out.

I held up my wrist, time also having run out.

“Met her before you did, Uncle Neville.”

Neville?

“Hello, Greye,” the cashier greeted me. He was friends with my younger sister. “What can I get you?”

“That’s a beautifully exotic name,” Neville said behind me.

“Three daily specials, I’m taking food over to Sara and Mary as well.”

“Anything else?”

I turned to Neville and his nephew. “You two want something, my treat.”

They ordered, and we left for the gallery. “You’re going there?” Jaime, the nephew, asked. “We wanted to go in, but people give us weird looks if men go to a quilt show.”

Every day mundane. Not what I expected, nothing I hated, and someone interesting. Maybe the soulmate thing wasn’t such a bad thing after all.


Saturday, November 26, 2016

Cutting Lines

Sorry about the missed week. Things are little busy at the moment. This story, Cutting Lines, was inspired by a pin I saw about World War 2. It made me think about all the times we believe someone else will do something, and no one ever does. 

The Eiffel Tower, 2015
C’est très facile,” Jean-Marie insisted as he poured another glass of wine for everyone. “Make the little monster use his own legs.”

Antoinette, Jean-Marie’s younger sister, leaned against the door of the wine cellar. The war had ceased three days before for her beloved France when the government signed their souls to the devil. Now, news had arrived that Hitler himself was to come to Paris.

“If we do something like this, it would be a problem,” Victor, named after the end of the previous war, ground his cigarette into the stone floor. “But, it might be worth the trouble.”

“Worth the trouble; I’d say it be jolly good,” Francis, the only Englishman in their group spoke in English. He used English when exceptionally excited. “Put the little man in his place, and all that.”

 C’est vrai!” Jean-Marie confirmed. “I have a friend who can help.”

“A friend who can help us do what?” Antoinette inquired, finally breaking her silence. The four men had known about the topic, but as they danced around the subject, no one had bothered to inform Antoinette.

"Cut the cables to the elevator at the Eiffel Tower."

The other four in the room blew out their breath or smoke.  Francis responded first. "I still think it’s jolly brilliant. Wish I'd thought of it."

"You're not French," Victor observed. "You would have not of thought of something so ...."

"Mundane?" Antoinette suggested.

"Poetic," Jean-Marie snorted. "It is very poetic, and appropriate for le petit homme to have to walk up the stairs. He will cause so many of us tears, he must shed some."

"He will, most likely, throw a fit and resist going up," Antoinette responded, pushing away from the wall. "And just how do you plan to accomplish this feat of yours, oh brother of mine?"

"A friend who knows the place, who knows just what to do."

"Someone else might have the same idea, for it is, as you say, poetic." The snap scratch of a match punctuated Victor's words. He puffed on his cigarette. "We may have a rather large crowd which would lead certain authorities to our location."

"Right-o, chaps. He's right," Francis agreed, leaning back. "What will we do about that?"

Jean-Marie shook his head and stood. His hands moved quickly around as he began pacing. "No, no, no. If we all believe this then none of us will do something. We must believe that we act alone, in a group or else nothing will be done. We cannot simply allow that to happen - it is how this madman has managed to be where he is now."

The wine cellar fell silent. Only dripping from a leaky faucet, as though the wine cried, could be heard.

"What are you saying, exactly, Jean-Marie?" The final person to speak was also French, but his hair was blonde, his eyes blue. His name, Florian, was French and German depending upon how he pronounced it. Even his surname, Herbert, was also mixed, like the man himself.

"If someone had thought they were the only one who could make a difference, and did something, we would not be in this situation, but everyone thought someone else would do it." Jean-Marie stopped. 

"I for one am tired of believing someone else will change things." He stopped in front of the door beside his sister. "Are you going to remain, or are you finally going to put action to those words of yours?"

Antoinette placed a hand on her brother's arm. "I can speak a lot better with written words, Jean-Marie, but there are times to think first."

"And there are more times to act before one thinks." Jean-Marie removed his sister's hand. "Time to think has long passed. It's now time to act."

"Those are soldiers out there," Antoinette argued. "They shoot first."

"Then I will die young."

"You are a fool, Jean-Marie."

"Now, now, Antoinette," Victor placated. "You know how Jean-Marie gets."

"I do," Antoinette answered. "That is what concerns me."

Jean-Marie sighed. "You all may remain if you wish, but I am going to venture forth and see what I can do. If I die defending my country, in my own way, then so be it."

Jean-Marie's footsteps echoed up the stairs, leaving the others to decide their own fates.




Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Keep Stepping

Sorry for the delay this week. It was another one of those weeks - not bad, just creatively draining. Today, I have a photo to go with the story - from the very place where Gretchen and Sung Hyuk would have climbed too. It's a long hike, but well worth it.

From the top of Mudeungsan, Gwangju, South Korea
This wasn't her world, and they weren't her people. They chatted easily despite the climb. For them it was a Saturday's lark up the mountainside. Twice a month they did this because it made them feel young and energetic. Good for the body.
"Are you all right, honey?" Sung Hyuk asked, stepping a couple rocks back to Gretchen.
"Fine," Gretchen huffed. "Just fine. Just need a breather."
She reached for her water bottle, but she wasn't thirsty.
Sung Hyuk handed her a tangerine. They were everywhere in the stores at the moment, and Sung Hyuk seemed to have an endless supply in his backpack. Ahead of them, his parents continued their steady climb, unfazed by their second son's dilapidated girlfriend.
More likely it was a good indication of how much they would care for her.
She was damaged - white, American and from a broken family. She was in her thirties already, and while beggars couldn't be choosers, even Sung Hyuk, who was scarcely two years her senior, had wondered about dating her.
That was before he had fallen head-over-heels in love with her, though.
His parents were an entirely different matter.
"They'll be fine," Sung Hyuk assured Gretchen.
"It's not them that concerns me," Gretchen answered. She had a PhD in theater, but for the life of her, she had never been able to act. What she could do was teach others how to act and the history of theater. She was good, and having a good understanding of Korean, English and French helped.
Sung Hyuk smirked as he looked at his parents. "Just keep stepping up, Gretchen."
"In this world where everything I've ever been told to be doesn't apply?"
"Is it that important to you?"
"It's important to me that I understand your world."
Sung Hyuk turned back to her. "I know," he whispered, the smirk gone. "It means a lot that you try to work at something you're so terrible at."
Gretchen narrowed her gaze. "You're supposed to be encouraging."
"But, you are terrible at it all. The thing that I love about you is the fact despite it all, you proceed. You don't know what to do, but you keep trying. Many others stopped." He thumbed at his parents' backs. "They're not easy to get along with. They're old school. We're new school. They lost friends and family back in the Eighties. Here in Gwangju, before, after. They continue to step forward as well." He held out his hand.
Gretchen handed him the tangerine peel. "I don't think they like me."
"Most likely not. You're white, confident, tall, beautiful, easily annoyed, and above all, I'm madly in love with you. You'd never be good enough for them. So why try?"
"Because I want them to like me."
Sung Hyuk sank into the empty spot on the rock beside her. The sun had gone behind a cloud, bringing a temporary coolness to the mountain. It was autumn, and the leaves, the brilliant leaves, danced on the earth. They had long left the colored hues. Here on this part of the mountain, the winds blew stronger, the leaves changed earlier. It wasn't barren, but it wasn't a canopy of color either. Below them, the city of Gwangju spread out among the rolling hills populating its urban landscape.
They were a city madly in love with nature, history and freedom. Even the man beside her, a political scientist professor embodied all those things.
Who was she fooling? "I should probably just go back down," she admitted.
"We're nearly there. Twenty more minutes."
"For you."
"For us. I'm not leaving you behind." He reached for her hand. His was always warm, comfortable. Her hand, as always, was cold. "You're not wearing your mittens."
"Too hot earlier."
Reaching around her, he opened her book bag and took out the mittens. "Put them on, Gretchen."
The bright fuchsia made her smile, as they always did.
Sung Hyuk touched Gretchen's chin. "Ah, good, you're smiling. It's worth the climb, love. Let's go." He rose, extending his arm as he did, to pull her to her feet.
The climb wasn't easy, but at the top the wind whipped everything away, pulled hair straight out and cut down to the bone. The sight, however, was beyond belief. The sky was brilliant. The world lay below their feet, high enough to even see some of the earth curving away. It was higher than she had ever climbed. Better than she could describe. Even better than the previous height they had climbed once together. She could see that place from here, seemingly far below.
"Wow."
"Glad you came?"
"Yes."
"Good. Come take a photo with me." Turning his phone to selfie, Sung Hyuk pulled Gretchen in close. "Kimchi."
His parents watched them.
"They'll always be there, good and bad," Sung Hyuk said. "It's beautiful, isn't it? A simple step with purpose, and we made it."
"Are you trying to tell me something?"
Sung Hyuk grinned, and opened a box in his hand. "Yes; I want you to be mine forever, Gretchen. I wasn't going to do this today, but I want them to know despite everything, you're the one I want." He held out the small engagement ring. "Well?"
"I'm going to want to stop."
"So long as we talk it through before you actually give up."
Gretchen rolled her eyes. "You're going to talk me out of it."
"When I know you can do it, I will convince you to push through. I trust you, but there are times when I know your fears are too great." He held the ring. "Promise to do the same for me?"
"Always."


Saturday, November 5, 2016

How to be Happy

"You need to smile more."
Right. Smile more. It might be pasted, but I could smile. Wasn't I smiling enough, though? People always told me I smiled a lot. Like too much.
"Oh, and talk slower. They can't understand you."
Check. Slower. Lifelong bane. Too many thoughts and not enough words, syllables or letters to express them. Just pretend I had marbles in my mouth. It would slow down.
"Oh, and try to be happy. We want the students to remember their time here as a good time, and I'm afraid they'll think of you and not be happy."
It took the remainder of the day to formulate the response to that. Thankfully, the remainder of the day was only an hour away because the bus ride home and picking up a few items at the store was all I could do to keep the tears inside.
Trudging up the last flight of stairs, I paused, took a deep breath and started forward.
Micheline, American, lived on the same floor I did. She worked at another school, but she never seemed to have any problems making friends or having things to do.
I always had, but I always chalked it up to being me. My brain worked differently than others. Not a problem. Just me. They say heartache comes in threes, but I didn't want yet another boot to drop on my head. The first two had been painful enough - first the rejection of my book (tenth publisher) and now this. I began to wonder how I was supposed to make it in this world.
My worlds were infinitely more interesting, and if I could create myself into their world, I would have fun. Not be their god, or even the coolest person on the planet, just have a good job, doing what I like with the powers I wanted. I'd have problems, but they would be ones easily handled.
How did one become bloody happy?!
I was happy.
Wasn't I?
I had a good job which I did well at ... Or I thought I did well with it. Apparently they were hiding things from me about what the parents would say - I learned that one in the mid-term interview.
I made friends here - impressive enough, considering I had only ever had a handful of people I really felt I could trust over my lifetime.
I was happy.
Then why didn't others see that?
"There's that resting bitch face, again," Micheline greeted.
I looked up. "What?"
Micheline, as always, glowed. She wore skinny jeans, brown boots, a bright turquoise sweater and a big floppy black hat atop her curly hair. Despite her size, she pulled off the ensemble in a way I never could imagine. She had a Mona Lisa smile, always half-there, like a sun peeking around a cloud. Any moment there would be a brilliant ray of light to blind the wary traveler.
"Are you happy?" I blurted out.
Micheline stepped back a moment and cocked her head. "No. Why do you ask?"
"You seem happy."
Her smile broke forth. "That's good. I'm rarely happy, but people tell me they think I am, so I become happy." She cocked her head the other direction. "What's the reason behind the question? You think too much, Izara. Something's twisting in that brain of yours." Leaning closer her smile faded and her brown eyes welled with tears. "Oh, dear. Unlock the door, kiddo. You're going to break in a moment."
Micheline had been one of my few good expat friends while I was here. We arrived around the same time and instantly bonded. Though I rarely had a chance to talk with her, it was these moments when her plans changed that astounded me.
"You unpack your things while I make the tea. This calls for strong tea and sweet cookies. What happened?"
I unloaded my groceries as I unloaded my heart. First with the easy news of the rejection letter than the harder news of the school assessment.
"Smile more? Be happy? What sort of inane, incompetent, idiotic and downright insulting suggestions are that?!" Micheline exploded. "This whole damn culture doesn't care one wit about whether or not you teach well only that everyone is happy and joyful. It doesn't matter if the students can't learn anything only that they're happy and joyful. And what the hell is this whole smile thing?!"
I rolled my shoulders. "Apparently, I look angry with the students."
"Of course you do. You have a resting bitch face."
"I can't discipline them well, though. They walk all over me."
"Kids do that."
"I don't think I'm cut out for teaching."
"Probably not."
I glared at her. "Aren't you supposed to be helping me feel better?"
Micheline grinned. "I thought I was. Listen, I've seen the way you interact with people. You do well with adults and teens, but you're lousy with little ones. Really, I want you to marry so you can have children. I would love to see how they turn out."
My gaze narrowed.
Micheline's grin grew wider. "Oh, scary. Now. Let it all out. The anger, hatred. Curse the whole superficial world."
So I did.
I felt a little better.
Micheline stared at me. "You know, for a church girl, you know some words. Dang."
I rolled my eyes. "I can slow down."
"No you can't."
"Encouragement."
"Realist. You can't slow down. It's a given fact. Even when you try to, you can't. You're in a rush to do everything right, Izara. Everything has to be done last week, and it isn't. The world can't keep up with you, so you tend to push it farther."
"Is there something wrong with that?"
Micheline sighed. "Can't really say yes or no, girl. All I know is that it's you. It works for you. You have this drive to do things bigger, better and greater than anyone else. Your passion burns within you, and sometimes, I think it'll burn everyone around you. You run so hot somedays."
"But people don't think I'm happy."
"To hell with happiness. There are plenty of people who are bloody happy and do nothing to be happy for. You," she leveled her finger at me, "have plenty to be proud of. I think that's a hell of a lot more to be happy for. Just because you don't smile all the time, doesn't make you unhappy any more than smiling all the time makes someone happy. Who makes up this stuff, Pollyanna?" She rose. "Do you still have that bottle of wine here?"
"On the wine rack."
"Good. Now, for the bad part. You need to cover their egos, and they only assume it will be from everyone being happy, so smile more is the easiest way to do this." She poured two glasses of wine. "Unfortunately, you can't imagine everyone naked like they tell you to do that in speeches. It doesn't work. Someone still has to be the adult. What about your older students?"
I shrugged. "I think I do well with them, but I thought I did well with the others as well."
"You do better with older students anyway. You can't treat them like older students, because, they aren't ..." She tapped her finger on the table. "Bloody mess."
I sank back into my chair. "Great."
"Oh, not you. It's just the whole foul mess. People don't want to tell you anything because they're scared you'll get angry, and you angry is a sight to behold. Yet, when they unload on you, then you don't know what to do, and you always defend. You argue - it's you."
"I do not."
She lifted an eyebrow. "Of course you don't."
"Oh."
"It's who you are, and on a guy, it's to be encouraged, but you aren't male. You are female. A highly logical, very rational female, but female nonetheless, and therein lies the problem. They expect you to behave a certain way because when they see you, you're female. They don't know your brain, Izara."
"So you don't have an answer, do you?"
"I don't know if anyone does," she admitted. "In the stories, the girl always becomes what they want her to be, and she lives happily ever after. The shy girl becomes the life of the party; the ugly duckling is a swan; the klutz finds she's good at sports. What if the truly beautiful is the woman who accepts herself and is happy the way she is? If she doesn't change herself to fit the stereotype, but adjusts the stereotype to fit her?"
"Fine for a book, but what about real life?"
Micheline shrugged. "Regardless, your face isn't so red. You've calmed down a bit, and you seem less gloomy. You look happy, but you aren't smiling."
I felt happy, as though a great load had been lifted off my shoulders. "I feel content," I answered.
"Happiness if fleeting, but contentment is great gain, isn't that what your Bible teaches you?"
"I can be content, but how am I supposed to be happy enough for people when I don't know how to do that?"
"I think that parts come out from you, Izara. You are a happy person, but it takes people who know you to see that. Your supervisor said you didn't look happy. It was an observation because you normally do. You smile easily, but when you teach, you put on your game face. I've seen that. You focus on the task."
I finished my wine. "Then what am I to do?"
"Have fun. Find what makes it fun to teach, for you, and enjoy it. The secret to being happy, is to find what you love in life, and enjoy it."