Nachos for One

This idea started a few days ago with an offhanded comment as I shared a link on Facebook.

nachos-for-one

My friends, of course, responded in kind with their own quippy remarks. “Nachos for Two… for One, Please,” said one, replied to by another with “Nachos for Four…One Fork, Please.” (And so on, and so on…)

The thing is, these all started sounding like chapter titles to me. Beyond chapter titles, I started thinking that they sounded like individual stories. I’ve been fighting a nasty cold for the better part of a week, so I wasn’t sure if I had a fun idea forming or if I was just loopy on cold medication.

So, I thought about it for a few days.

giphy

And after thinking about it, I’ve decided that it is an enjoyable idea rolling around in my cold-addled brain.

Nacho Stories

Tell me your story – fiction, nonfiction, poem, cartoon, limerick – however you want to tell it, the only stipulation being that it involves nachos somehow. I recognize that this is very silly, but I think that’s what makes the idea so fun.

I’ll emphasize that this really is just for fun, at least for now. I’m a big proponent of writers being compensated for the work they do online; I think that it’s a shame there are so many websites that won’t even deign to consider paying writers for their work.

This project is not work. It’s a bit of a goof, a chance to flex some creative muscles, play around with an idea for the sake of playing. I’d like to regularly post these stories on the blog, and if you have any other links or passion projects you would like for me to link to when posting your story I would gladly include those as well.

If you’d like to get in touch about a submission, you can reach me through my contact form, send me a message through the Facebook page, or give me a shout on Twitter.

comic2-2492

The weaving of a tale

There is a spider who lives in the window over my bed. Her web is strung like a safety net, woven horizontally between screen and glass so that she’s able to perch herself in the joint of the window frame. At the point in the morning when I open the blinds, the sun is at just the right angle to reflect the iridescent slopes of her handiwork. Myself a creature of habit, I’ve taken to greeting her as I start the day.

It’s generally just an offhand comment, a quick “Good morning, window spider!” as I fold sheets and fluff pillows. (I have yet to come up with a better name than that, but often simple observation just feels right.) Sometimes I’ll remark on the fact that she continues to grow, despite me never seeing her actually catch anything to eat. This morning I noted that she seemed to have weathered last night’s storm rather expertly, already adding a secondary layer under her net where holes wore through.

window-web

I realize that it must sound rather bizarre to hear me explain so casually my chatting up an arachnid. And on that point, I probably should have prefaced the post by telling you that I’ve always been a bit of a talker, even to inanimate objects. Any of my previous roommates could relay an instance where their shouts of “What?” were met with statements like, “Not you, the microwave!” or “I was talking to the sofa!” My internal monologues have a way of becoming external dialogues.

So, in that sense, it really is only fitting that I should transition myself from dreams to wakefulness by talking to a spider. She quite literally watches over me while I sleep, and the poet in me has started thinking that she’s there to filter out the negativity that would latch on to me in the vulnerable night. Or maybe she is really he, my own little Anansi to gift my subconscious with tales of clever triumph. I hold a tiny (very tiny) hope that one morning I’ll wake to see “SOME WRITER” woven over me like a silken miracle.

window-spider

Of course, the pragmatist in me knows that she is just a spider. But in researching what kind of spider she is (a task that proved to be a war of wills), I learned that she’s just my kind of spider. Tegenaria domestica, the common house spider, is also known as a barn funnel weaver due to the conical retreat built into the end of the web. It’s an immigrant spider – coming over on ships from Europe in the 17th century, they found a new home in the port cities of the Eastern seaboard.

This species is shy, not poisonous, and more perceptive than her orb-weaving cousins. Her web isn’t sticky, so she can’t rely on chance prey, but she’s also not an aggressive hunter. Instead she sits patiently, her front pair of eyes able to detect shapes, and waits for the opportunity to grab food she knows she’s able to dominate without danger. House spiders can see humans, perceive their enormity, and choose to back away rather than confront them.

Still a poet at heart, I keep coming back around to the tale of Arachne, the spider’s mythological namesake. Her story is meant to illustrate the danger of excess pride, though it seems to me to be more about female jealousy than anything else. Of all the versions out there, I prefer Ovid’s, in which Arachne not only out-weaves Athena, she does so with a tapestry that illustrates various scenes of gods taking advantage of mortals. Athena, proving Arachne’s point, throws a tantrum in which she destroys the tapestry, poisons Arachne, and curses her to be a spider for eternity.

My own addition to the tale is the thought that perhaps Arachne, having suffered the unjust wrath of the gods, is determined to look out for us mere mortals. That by cursing her into a spider, Athena inadvertently also blessed her with a certain immortality. Quiet and unassuming, she weaves a protective layer between the angry sky and my gentle heart.

The dawn is a blinking cursor

One day last week, I woke up with a line of verse in my head. It didn’t go anywhere, but it also didn’t go away. For days, any time my mind was at a lull, the line would float back up to the surface. I wrote it down, stared at it, willed it to continue on into another line. Frustratingly, it did not oblige.

But experience told me that if there is power in one line, then it’s worth waiting for the rest to take shape. Last night, something clicked. I’m not much for defining something as good or not good, but I am for taking pride in something you patiently nurtured into being. I’m also trying to get more comfortable with the idea of sharing what I write, because I have a tendency to be guarded when I should be more open.

I’m not sure that it’s finished (whatever that may mean), but I’m content with where it is at the moment.

shadow-self-portrait

The dawn is a blinking cursor

Some days I am almost a bird.
It is a becoming,
a certain of-ness,
a craning of the neck that glides
into an unintentional alert nod
over a tilted shoulder.

I startle easily.
There is something so natural
about the rush of blood,
thumping chest pushing back
against the constraints of skin.
As if the sudden intake of breath
were just an extension
of the wind.

But also I wonder at times if
what I want is a conscious choice,
and if that choosing is mine entirely,
or just a reflex wired through
the half-awareness of my
avian heart.

Lost and found

I’m not just a hoarder of books – I’m a hoarder of words. A very well organized hoarder, but a hoarder nonetheless. I have files and boxes full of papers, all with a certain meaning to me. There are reading packets from college courses I found particularly interesting, quotes written on post-its, notes passed back and forth in class and endless piles of poetry. They’re organized by type, vaguely by time period, all labeled and stacked on shelves.

I recently read a story about a man who turned unintentionally hilarious software patch updates from The Sims into a piece of found poetry. For those unfamiliar with the medium, found poetry is pretty much exactly what it sounds like it would be. It’s a method of crafting poetry by taking lines or words from another document, usually something functional like a manual or an activity log. When you encounter statements such as “Sims will no longer walk on water to view paintings placed on swimming pool walls,” it’s fairly easy to craft it into comedy gold.

isbnReading that article reminded me of a found poem I had written my junior year in college. I was taking a linguistics course that was close to incomprehensible to me, and I had a tendency to drift a bit in class. I remember sitting in the classroom, staring at the textbook, and having my eyes start to pull random words from the page. None of it made much sense to me as paragraphs, but I began forming new meaning out of the chaos. I wrote a few poems instead of taking notes.

Flash forward ten years, and I’m sitting on the floor of my room, flipping through notebooks, trying to find that one yellow page of Steno paper that I know contains the only interesting thing to come out of Typology and Universals. I even flipped through the book itself, also still on my shelf, thinking that maybe I stuck the poem into it somewhere. I found stacks of other poems. Poems I didn’t know existed. Some I wrote when I was a kid. Some are actually phenomenally good.

I was pretty sure the poem was lost in the ether, but then last night I remembered having a poetry binder at some point in the past. Sure enough, in a storage bin in my closet, there was another stack of folders, files and binders, one of them the poetry collection I was searching for. I opened it up, and tucked into the pocket at the top of the pile, was that little yellow paper I had been seeking. Considering there are literally hundreds of papers crammed into this literary time capsule, it was quite fortuitous that this was the first of the bunch.

So, after a metaphoric quest only a poet could fully appreciate, here are the found poems I truly thought I’d lost.

pg. 257

an instance of erosion
the root is adapted
but adaptation could also be
dissimilation
the final segment
may just drop out suddenly
may be triggered by environment
J’ai lu le livre
Je l’ai lu

pg. 261

metal pot
bicycle
prisoner
rust
functional loss

On poetry and purpose

A few days ago, I read an article on The Atlantic that struck a chord. In it, author Sherman Alexie reveals that a single line of poetry inspired him to dedicate himself to the arts.

Bang. It was right there. It was waiting for me. People talk about “that moment when you just know”—I don’t think that many people actually have that moment. But I did. And from then on, there was never a Plan B.

I truly envy people with the ability to completely trust that hope has the power to transform yearning into reality with enough single-minded focus. I’m still mustering up the courage to tell myself the same, and in my own way I’m inching ever closer to taking that leap of faith.

After reading the article, I thought it would be a good exercise to search my personal history for my own creative epiphany. I then promptly got consumed in a hot streak playing Candy Crush Saga and the thought escaped into the recesses of my brain. But last night, I had a very vivid dream that I’d like to believe was the thought forcing its way back up to my consciousness.

In it, I was behind the wheel of a station wagon and pulled into the driveway of a generic suburban house. Sherman Alexie proceeded to hop into the passenger seat and off we went, driving and talking. He asked me why I spent so much time engrossed in Twitter, and I explained that it was a great way to reach out and build links. He suggested that this was only true if I was writing something that actually connected people. The rest of the conversation is a bit fuzzy for me, but I do distinctly remember that as I drove I realized that I was not completely in control of the vehicle. It was not out of control, per se, but the brakes would not completely stop the car, only slow it down.

I woke up thinking, “I must tweet this!” Not the most enlightened interpretation of what is actually a lovely metaphor, but in my defense I hadn’t had my coffee yet.

It took less than a minute of pondering before I arrived at the genesis of my love for poetry. I was 10 years old, and I was given the complete works of Elizabeth Bishop as part of a summer writing seminar. While the course picked apart form and pattern and symbolism in her more famous long-form poems, in flipping through the book I came across an opening line that struck me instantly. Much like Alexie, it only took this one line for me to know that, at my very core, I was and always would be in love with poetry.

The tumult in the heart
keeps asking questions.
And then it stops and undertakes to answer
in the same tone of voice.
No one could tell the difference.

Uninnocent, these conversations start,
and then engage the senses,
only half-meaning to.
And then there is no choice,
and then there is no sense;

until a name
and all its connotation are the same.

Conversation, Elizabeth Bishop

She packs an amazing punch into a very short sentence (and the very short poem that follows). The tumult in the heart keeps asking questions. She posits there is a purpose to the emotional chaos we all feel to a certain degree. The confusion of love, of life, of the complex internal interactions we have with ourselves is itself a sentient force. I believe that being a creative person means embracing the intensity of these interactions, good or bad. That belief took root the day I read this poem, and it gave me a voracious appetite for words in any form.

That same year, I also had a run-in with prose that helped shape my artistic vision. I went into our basement and browsed our home library, picking out a book based solely on the cover. Despite the wisdom in the old adage, this turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life. The book was The Martian Chronicles. I read it in one sitting, staying up late into the night to get to the end. When Ray Bradbury passed away last year, I cried as if he were family.

In a week and a half, I will no longer be working at my current job. In a month and a half, I will no longer be living in Beijing. I’m not entirely sure what the next step is , but somehow hurtling headlong into the future isn’t such a terrifying thing when I stop and remind myself who I am.

I am a writer.

I am a writer.

I am a writer.

And this is a beautiful thing.

Repetitive motion

Beijing is perpetually under construction. This isn’t some sort of grand metaphor or anything like that. Spend enough time here and you’ll be able to distinguish the make and model of a drill within three floors of it being used. It’s so prevalent that it took six years of constant noise before neighbors realized that one Beijing resident had built a miniature mountain on top of his apartment building.

I could spend all day flipping through the mental album of construction memories just in my current apartment. There was the time my downstairs neighbor decided the hallway was a perfect place to mix cement. There was the time my next door neighbor spent an entire afternoon using a tile saw outside my doorway. There was the time a business on the street figured 4:30am was the perfect hour to install a new neon sign under my kitchen window. There was the time the apartment under me decided to start off Saturday morning by hitting a balcony railing with rubber mallets until it fell off (Fun fact: it sounded exactly like a railroad spike being driven into my headboard for 2 solid hours).

Oh, the memories!

So, it probably shouldn’t have surprised me to wake up this morning and find that magical construction elves had appeared on my street overnight and installed a fence. In the middle of the road. Directly between my apartment gate and the grocery store. Because apparently it was too easy for me to get to the fresh produce.

Fence

It made me think about a poem I’ve always loved, partially because of the placement of the fence, but mostly because it just feels like a perfect description of daily life in China. Whether you’re getting on a bus, flagging a taxi, navigating the market, or removing a balcony railing, the soundtrack of the city is that of repetitive motion.

In the middle of the road there was a stone
there was a stone in the middle of the road
there was a stone
in the middle of the road there was a stone.

Never should I forget this event
in the life of my fatigued retinas.
Never should I forget that in the middle of the road
there was a stone
there was a stone in the middle of the road
in the middle of the road there was a stone.

(“In The Middle Of The Road”, Carlos Drummond de Andrade)

Waking the dead

As a lifetime insomniac (a fact I’m sure I’ve mentioned here on more than one occasion) I’ve tried just about everything to coax myself to sleep. When I was a teenager, what seemed to soothe my mind was memorizing poetry. Reading aloud, the repetition of lines was my version of counting sheep.

Now that I have a sound machine to calm my overactive neurons, my volumes of verse tend to be ignored more than they should be. I don’t know if it’s the gray day or the fact that I’m nursing a cold, but today I found comfort in one of my favorites.

Ulysses


It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Matched with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.
I cannot rest from travel; I will drink
life to the lees. All times I have enjoyed
Greatly, have suffered greatly, both with those
that loved me, and alone; on shore, and when
Through scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vexed the dim sea. I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known—cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honored of them all—
And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.
I am part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough
Gleams that untraveled world whose margin fades
Forever and forever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end.
To rust unburnished, not to shine in use!
As though to breathe were life! Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains; but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.
This is my son, my own Telemachus,
To whom I leave the scepter and the isle—
Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfill
This labor, by slow prudence to make mild
A rugged people, and through soft degrees
Subdue them to the useful and the good.
Most blameless is he, centered in the sphere
Of common duties, decent not to fail
In offices of tenderness, and pay
Meet adoration to my household gods,
When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.
There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail;
There gloom the dark, broad seas. My mariners,
Souls that have toiled, and wrought, and thought with me—
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
Free hearts, free foreheads—you and I are old;
Old age hath yet his honor and his toil.
Death closes all; but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with gods.
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks;
The long day wanes; the slow moon climbs; the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends.
‘Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
the sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down;
It may be that we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are—
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

(Alfred, Lord Tennyson)