Story A Day for May, Day 21

newsclip

News Clippings

Kate found some old clippings tucked into the envelop that held T.K.’s last letter. She breathed in the addictive aroma of old ink and carefully unfolded the brittle newsprint.

Last Concert for The Kidd

Trey Kidd drops surprise announcement at Bumbershoot Festival

By Corbin Bass, special to the Seattle Weekly
Wednesday, September 8, 1982

At last week’s Bumbershoot, Trey Kidd announced this was his last performance–at least as a solo act.

“Hey, maybe my kids will perform,” he said, referring to his plans to become a junior high music teacher, “but this is my last scheduled gig.”

Kidd came on the scene 10 years ago, and many had him pegged as the next Arlo Guthrie.

When asked why he was giving it all up at a time when his career was picking up, he said, “That’s why, man. I can quit now.”

He went on to explain that, as a low-level celebrity, he didn’t yet have a staff who’d be out of work if he stopped performing and recording, or existing contracts he’d have to break.

“I can quit now, and nobody suffers,” Kidd told this reporter. “But I’ve been approached by big labels. If I were to sign, next thing you know, all sorts of people’s incomes would be dependent on me showing up. I’m not sure I want that kind of responsibility.”

At a time when most aspiring singers wouldn’t dream of trading guitar picks for sticks of chalk, Kidd’s decision has fans and critics wondering.

“I’m bummed, man,” said Denny Savoy, a follower since the release of Kidd’s first album, Wild Child, in 1972. “We’ve been with him from the beginning, following him to festivals, concerts, coffee shops. It’s a bummer. Just when he was starting to get famous, too.”

Music critic Sally Sanchez says this type of response, while uncommon, isn’t unheard of. “It’s the eighties,” Sanchez explained. “Musicians who started out in the early 70s are finding that the music scene has changed. Rather than mellow times with marijuana and wine, we’re getting hard edges with cocaine and tequila. The sound is changing, too. Not everyone can make that transition.”

But Kidd says changing times and shifting tastes have nothing to do with it. “There are enough people still singing my style of music. If I wanted to stay, there’s a niche, and I’ve had plenty of offers. But think of this as the opposite of selling-out. I had a good run. Now I’m returning to my true dream: teaching.”

Usually, it’s the teacher-turned-singer, like Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner, also known as Sting, who gets the media attention. But Kidd’s decision is causing quite a stir.

“I’m really not doing this to make news,” he told reporters at a press conference on the last day of Bumbershoot. “I didn’t want to just disappear. I wanted a chance to say goodbye to fans. But if I could just slide out, avoid any attention, I’d do that. This isn’t meant to be an entertainment event.”

Over veggie burgers and sweet potato fries at 14 Carrot on Eastlake, he and I had a chance to talk a little deeper about his background in music, his surprising history as an academic, and the source of his inspiration, an unlikely mentor for a rising young folksinger.

Part two coming in the next issue of Seattle Weekly, available on newsstands and street corners Wednesday, September 15.

The Philosopher’s Song

Trey Kidd reveals his true love for philosophy and “the joy of thinking”

By Corbin Bass, special to the Seattle Weekly
Wednesday, September 15, 1982

–Continued from last week–

We all know Trey Kidd as a “thinking man’s singer”–at least those of us who are old-time fans know him that way.

Listen carefully to any of his lyrics and you can’t miss the literary references and the delicate twists of logic:

The solution of the problem
of life
is seen in the vanishing
of this problem–

Whereof one cannot speak,
thereof one
must be silent.

These final lines of “Finger/Moon,” one of the more intricate songs on Kidd’s cult-like first album are lifted directly from Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, an obscure treatise that takes seven propositions, each composed of multiple supporting points, to reach a conclusion worthy of Yogi Berra.

I asked Kidd about his fascination with philosophy when we met for lunch not long after his announcement that he was leaving his career as a folksinger.

“What’s so beautiful about these lines,” he said, “are their utter absurdity! It’s like this story I heard about Paramahansa Yogananda, who, when at a very young age, was made the head of this important group of scholars and politicians made, as his very first decree, the ruling, ‘This club is now disbanded!'”

While Kidd dissolved in laughter, I couldn’t help but draw parallels with his own abandonment of his musical career just as he was reaching fame after ten long years of labor.

“I hadn’t thought of it like that,” he said, suddenly becoming sober. “But I suppose there might be something to it. Fame is a lot emptier than one might think. It was never what drew me in.”

I asked him what did draw him in.

“I had this idea that there was a ‘path with heart,'” he said, “and that you found that path by doing what you were good at. I love philosophy, but I’m terrible at logical thinking. I get caught up in the metaphor and can’t get past it. And that makes me a good songwriter. Someone I admired told me, ‘Look to your talents. They’ll never lead you astray,’ and so that’s why I never pursued a doctorate in philosophy and started writing more songs, instead.”

It’s not unusual to find a folksinger with a college degree–in fact, in my experience, it’s the norm, rather than the exception. But one who has a master’s and who harbored the dream of earning a Ph.D. is much less common.

I asked him why he wasn’t heading back to school as a student. What made him want to be a teacher, instead?

“There’s really only one person I’d want to study with, if I were to pursue a doctorate,” he said, “and that person stopped teaching several years ago.”

Kidd said that he’d been nurturing this second dream of becoming a music teacher for a few years. Finally, the timing was right. The principal of Summit School, an alternative K-8 school in North Seattle, approached him when he heard that he was interested in teaching.

“It’s a perfect opportunity,” Kidd said. “The music program is just getting started. These are kids who, for one reason or another, find themselves in this school with a different approach. It seems like a good fit for me. And finally, I’ll get to do something authentic–something that feels true.”

Mighty idealistic words from a man who’s making a left turn off the road to fame. But then, I always did suspect that a dreamer lurked behind Trey Kidd’s posing as the nihilistic lover of the absurd.


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Prompt for May 21: “Write A Story As A News Report,” from StoryADay.org.
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Story A Day for May, Day 20

letters

Saved Letters

Kate finished the editing the last batch of poems and went looking for more. There, in the back of the closet, sat a promising trunk. It held more spiral notepads, crammed with poetry, and a shoebox. In the shoebox, she found letters.

All the notes and cards she’d sent her grandfather were there. She quickly thumbed through the trails of her travel and career. The rest seemed to be from his students, including several from Celeste, requesting recommendations, expressing thanks.

And then there were these three, also from a student, but of a more personal nature.

San Francisco, June 1972

Solomon–

You said to let you know how I was getting on. I’m getting on all right.

I know you feel it was the right decision–choosing music and over academic life. But I’m not so sure. I was a good scholar–you said so yourself. I hoped to find a way to do both, you know?

But I guess I should look at the signs–I got a recording contract, so that’s a positive, right?

The album should be coming out in the fall. We’re about done recording, and soon, we’re heading into post-production.

I’ve been singing at festivals and coffee shops, getting my face out there.

But I feel like there’s this other me that never left the university, that stayed on to get my Ph.D. I miss those afternoons in your office, listening to you dissect the forces behind this screwed up system, and I feel like I’ve sold out, somehow, becoming part of it.

Do you really think–still–that art can make a difference?

–TK

London, 1975

Dear Solomon–

It’s been a while. Been busy.

I heard you got named professor emeritus. Congratulations. Guess that means you’re not teaching anymore? Or maybe just a class or two? Hope the lighter load agrees with you. More time for writing, yeah?

Things are cruising along. Guess you know, if you’ve had a chance to follow the scene. I try to keep a low profile, but it’s hard–runs counter to what the publicity agents want!

Thanks for your letter. I’m glad to know you liked the first album. Did you hear the others? I think they’re better–except for the one before this. It’s embarrassing–too pop for my tastes.

Next album will be acoustic. I want people to be able to hear the lyrics, you know?

I still think a lot about the things we talked about. There’s this one afternoon I keep remembering. We’d finished our Plato seminar, and a bunch of us tagged along with you to your office, like we always did. Remember that feeling? Ideas were bursting! We were like, running, to keep up with you–and we couldn’t talk fast enough or listen hard enough, and class was over, but we weren’t.

God, I miss that.

Performing’s a rush, when it’s not a drag. But the only thing that comes close to that is composing.

Anyway. That afternoon–I keep trying to capture it in this song I’m writing. But I don’t know how to get the voices, the sunlight, the shining eyes, your wild laugh, and then those silences when we were all thinking, at once, at the same time, and our separate thoughts combine into one structure, unspoken.

How do I capture that in a song?

I know. You would say, “Start with the poem first.”

And you could do it.

I keep remembering.

–TK

Seattle, 1979

Solomon,

Yes, I agree. To get one person to feel, for a moment, that shared experience of consciousness lighting up, within and without: that is enough.

You did that for me.

Thank you for saying that my last album did that for you.

I’m not sure how many more albums I have in me. I want do something else for a while. Teach, maybe.

I still think back on that other me that could have been, and sometimes, when I close my eyes, I see that bespectacled me, satchel on the back, stack of books in the arms, head bent with thought. Overhead, the squirrels chatter through their acrobats on the oak limbs, and beyond the green leaves, the sky–blue, blue, blue.

I think there’s a song there–Other Me

It’s this multitudinous feeling–life, and life, and all of possibility, and everything simultaneous.

You’re right: I am more poet than scholar, like you, my dear mentor.

Hope all is well with you and yours.

In that other life, the one that might have been, can you see me, stepping out of the library, looking across the courtyard, towards you?

–TK


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Prompt for May 20: “Write A Story In The Form Of A Series of Letters,” from StoryADay.org.
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Story A Day for May, Day 19

doit

My Last Date

Listen. It’s not like this is the first date we’ve ever had, right, Wittgy? Right, Wolfie? I mean, sure, I haven’t had a date in ages and ages, not since either of you came to live with me, but that doesn’t mean I’ve never dated. I’ve had loads of dates! Simply loads. As in lots.

Of course, that was back in the day.

Last date I had, when was that? Was that the time Carl and I hit up the Dylan concert? That wasn’t really a date. More like a shared interest. We were what my students would call “mutuals” in the same fandom. Big fans. We both stan Dylan.

I still stan Dylan. (Am I saying this right?) But I stand Dylan Thomas more:

“My hero bares my side and sees his heart
Tread, like a naked Venus”

Oh, dear. Not the best poem to quote while preparing for a first date, eh, guys? Especially a date with a woman who calls me “ballsy.”

But why not? Why not dare, no matter what the age?

My last date. I think my last date was with Caroline. Oh, I never told you about Caroline, did I? She was sweet. I wanted it to work out with her. If it had, you’d have two humans to dote over you, boys, give you treats and walks and fill your supper dishes.

But it is just me. We never moved past dating. Our last date–oh! This is why I hesitate. Because of our last date. Yes, talk about disaster.

One really shouldn’t break up on a date. Save it for a quiet conversation. “Meet me at the park. We need to talk.”

But we broke things off at our date. My last date.

I had been so hyped. Rocky Horror Picture Show. We dressed for it. Oh, so many of my students were there! This was back in the city. I was younger–oh, yes. I was, even though not so young, known as the “hip professor.” Ha! Yes. Me. It’s true.

And so, I was ready to sing along with the chorus. “Let’s do the Time Warp again!”

I had a blast. But Caroline. She didn’t really get into it. We’d been before. This was, like, our third time? But this time, she didn’t stan it. (I still don’t know if I’m saying it right.)

I thought perhaps she was nervous because of my students. She kept her seat when I was up front dancing before the screen.

When we left the theater, she said, “I’m taking the job.”

“What job?”

“You know. The corporate one.”

“With Exxon Mobile?”

She sold out. Just like that.

“It’s a good job. It will make my career.”

“Career with the devil.”  Was I wrong? Should I have listened, considered her side?

“I can make a difference there,” she said.

“Yes, but the position is in PR. You’ll just be making excuses.”

“I need to take it.”

We didn’t fight. We went silent. Both of us. I could feel her thoughts running along, counter to mine. I could make up all her arguments, as she could mine.

We walked in the buzzing silence along the wharf, stopping at last, under the moon. We rested our arms on the wooden rail, looked out at the minnows, circling in the lamplight. Something scurried behind us–a wharf rat.

“I can’t keep this up,” she said. “There will be so much traveling.”

But I knew, she couldn’t keep up this life. She had to hide, if she were to make it in corporate.

And was that really my last date?

I think it was. I grew older. I got the both of you. I decided that love was a butterfly–oh, so foolish. And I’d let it flit through my garden life. And now, the butterfly has landed on a cosmos flower, just as the petals are fading to lilac.

What will we talk about? I am out of practice.

She knows your namesake, Wittgy. So perhaps we can discuss the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus? How would that do?

Or I could talk about the two of you. Who can resist the antics of Wittgenstein and Wolfgang, my four-legged lifetime companions?


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Prompt for May 19: “Tell A Story ‘Direct To Camera,” from StoryADay.org.
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Story A Day for May, Day 18

KatyMoon

Circle

“Grandpa. It’s been a while since I’ve been up here. I know I used to come every day. I’ve had… I’ve had to sort some things out.

“Grandpa, I’ve been remembering.

“Did you know, if anyone ever asked if I’d had a happy childhood, I always said yes?

“I thought I did. I had you. I had Baron.

“But, Grandpa, I pushed away all the hard times, pushed them until they fell out of memory. But they came back. Finally. They came back to me. Grandpa, I didn’t know you suffered.

“You used to say sorry. Remember that? When I’d come visit from college or from the city. You’d pour me coffee, we’d sit at the kitchen table, with a Beethoven symphony playing on the stereo, loud as we could have it and still talk over it, and you’d grow quiet and look at me and say, ‘Sorry, Katy.’

“I’d laugh, or ask what for. You’d shake your head. ‘Just sorry.’

“But, Grandpa, it’s not a matter of forgiveness. There’s nothing to forgive. You did your best. You had it hard, more so than me. You had it hard.

“I’m glad you asked me, in that dream, to stop working on your notebooks. I put them all away. I won’t even read them all. I believe you when you say they’re not to be shared.

“So, I’ve been working on your poems. Grandpa, you were a poet! I guess you knew that. I think, though, that you were a better poet than you were philosopher. I hope you don’t mind my saying that. Steinhart is still pissed! I guess he figured it would boost him up, with the department getting all that attention when your journals were published. And now! Now the poetry department gets the attention, and all he gets is the reflected glory. But Grandpa, it was the right decision.

“I don’t know how you found your way into my dream, but thank you. Editing these poems of yours feels like an important life work for me, Grandpa. It’s my dharma. You’re going to be one of the famous American poets.

“Do you mind that it’s happening now, after you’re gone?

“But you’re not gone, are you. You still come in dreams, on the breeze. I feel you now.

“Grandpa, I found the poems for WC. I know they’re not to be published! Don’t worry. But I want to share them with WC. I want to find WC and give them the poems you wrote for them. Remember when I promised I’d help you find the person you never told you loved, and then we didn’t have time?

“Grandpa, I want to do that now. That’s dharma, too. And for you, it’s karma. It will close your karma loop, so you’ll be free. Can I do that? Is it OK?

“I’m at a roadblock. Celeste helped me get your class lists, but they don’t do any good. There’s no WC on them.

“If you want me to continue–and, Grandpa, I so want to–then give me a sign. Help me get a breakthrough! Show me something–in a dream or in life! Some synchronicity!

“Can you do that, Grandpa? If you can, then I will keep searching. I’ll open every door until we find WC. And then the circle of your love will be closed.

“Would you like that, Grandfather?”


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Prompt for May 18: “Write a story today in which the reader only hears one side of the conversation,” from StoryADay.org.

Author’s note: I guess I bent the prompt a bit–I read it last night, and then, during sleep, decided to write Kate’s conversation with her grandfather, so that’s what I thought about all day. I see now it doesn’t exactly fit because there only IS one side to this conversation. Oh, well! It’s not the first time I haven’t taken the prompts literally!
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Story A Day for May, Day 17

opendoor

Open Closed Doors

On the long stretch home from the school bus stop, Kate sometimes played the Open Door game. Today would be different. Today, when she opened the door, Grandfather would greet her: “How was your day, Katy-Moon? What did you learn today?”

“I learned that kids can be mean, even after Mrs. Clarke has read us a story where the main point was to be nice, even though they were all crying in the story when Little Paul Dombey was sick, and I learned that when they get like that, it really is OK to go off on your own and ignore them, and I learned if you do so, someone might come up and say, ‘hey, do you want to explore the back woods with me?’ and if you say ‘yes’ he might might say, ‘OK, let’s go,’ and so you might find a whole caterpillar nest where they’re all tangled up in the oak. Did you ever see one, Grandpa?”

And for a second, the Open Door game might stop, for she would never know how he would answer that question.

She could imagine that, yes, he had seen a caterpillar nest, all tangled in white fairy hair, for who hadn’t, if he loved to walk the woods as her grandfather did, when the door wasn’t closed?

Grandfather would say,  “Are you hungry, Katy-Moon?”

Or maybe–and this would be better–she would smell meatloaf–meatloaf and baked potatoes, and maybe, she could smell it now, just as she rounded the bend, before she even ran up the hill, and maybe that’s why she was running so fast, and when she opened the door, she would call out to Grandpa in the kitchen, “Grandfather, what delicious things are we having for supper?”

And after supper, he would say, “Leave the dishes, Kate, and let’s dance.” She would thumb through the stacks of LPs until she found the one she loved the most, Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, and, slowly, she’d pull it out, and slowly, she’d place it on the turntable, and ever so carefully, Grandfather would set down the needle while she turned the nob on.

And they would spin, and twirl, and dance, and sing, and he would scoop her up and waltz her to bed, and drop her onto the mattress so she would bounce and bounce and bounce and when the bouncing stopped and the music stopped and the blankets were snuggled around her, he would say, “Sleep tight, Katy-Moon,” and she would be asleep already.

But playing didn’t make it happen.

She opened the kitchen door to find her dirty cereal bowl on the table, the milk left out, the spotted spoon in the sink, with no record on the turntable, and the dog’s bowl in the corner empty, and the door to her grandfather’s bedroom, once again, closed.


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Prompt for May 17: “Write A Story In 14 Sentences,” from StoryADay.org.
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Story A Day for May, Day 16

anyway2

Anyway, Too

“Celeste! What the fuck! I never thought you’d actually call.”

“Well, hello to you, too, Aubrey. And yes. I called. I am that brave.”

“Yeah. One ballsy woman.”

“I always wanted to be called ‘ballsy.'”

“This your first time?”

“Yup. That’s what I get for hanging out in polite society.”

“Ha! Not a fucking worry for you no more! Not if you’re hanging out with me. Oh, shit. Look, Celeste. I am so glad you called, but Nora’s outside the door, waving her arms like a crazy woman to tell me I’m late for my next meeting. Hell. I’m always late. But I can’t string along these rich donors. I really gotta take this. Call back? Better yet, I’ll call you, doll.”


“Aubrey?”

“What. Did you think I wouldn’t call back? Gimme some credit, at least!”

“Well. Thank you. I thought, you know, wait a few days. No call. I’d have to work up my nerves to call you back, then we’d both pretend that we hadn’t skipped turns–that old story.”

“It’s a little early for that turn-skipping shit, don’t you figure? Gotta know each other for at least two months before we start taking, you know, liberties with each other!”

“Yes. So. Anyway. How was your day?”

“Oh. Okay. We’re doing that. Well, my day was just peachy. I got a call out of the blue from this hot older woman I think I might just be sorta into, and then I had the best damn meeting of my life, and then now, here I am. On the phone again. How was your day?”

“It was good. Uneventful. Reading. A walk with Wittgy–that’s my dog. He’s an Australian shepherd. I think he’s gay. Then–you know, Aubrey–I stopped under a cherry tree. In bloom. And–it was like one of those movies. Slow-motion. The petals falling. And. Do you ever see the space between things? The space between petals, for instance? That’s when I decided to call you. So, actually, not uneventful at all. Lovely. I had a lovely day.”

“That sounds–did you say you saw the spaces between the petals? I thought I was the only one who did that.”

“The spaces between the petals, Aubrey.”

“Damn.”

“Anyway, it was beautiful.”


“Celeste! You fucking called! I was just thinking about you! I swear!”

“That’s a coincidence. I was just thinking about you, Aubrey.”

“This is like, what–our third phone conversation? I don’t even know what you do. What do you fucking do, Celeste, besides walk through the petals falling in slo-mo? No–wait! Let me guess! Something with the university. Librarian? Molecular biologist?”

“You’re so close, Aubrey. I’m a philosophy professor.”

“Right on! And that would mean… Wittgy is short for Wittgenstein?”

“Oh! You are good!”

“Except when I’m bad. And then, I’m better! Want to know what I do, career-wise, that is?”

“I already do. You think I’d just call up any intelligent woman I met in any old café? I did my research! I know all about your being the new director of Wing City! In fact, I read a profile of you in City Buzz shortly after your appointment.”

“Now who’s good!”

“Anyway. I haven’t been calling just to call.”

“You’ve been calling to phone-flirt!”

“No! I mean. I haven’t been calling just to ‘phone-flirt.’ I… I was wondering… I’ve been trying to work up my nerve…”  3. 2. 1. Breathe. Breathe. “Aubrey. Would you like to have dinner with me?”


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Prompt for May 16: “Write a story completely in dialogue,” from StoryADay.org.
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Story A Day for May, Day 15

wc2

WC: What We Know, What We Don’t

Kate approached uncovering the identity of her grandfather’s secret love like a scholar. It was work she was well-suited for, through training and profession, and it was work that suited the task. After all, two-thirds of literary analysis is detection.

She drew up two lists: What I know; What I don’t.

WC – What I Know

  1. “eyes, light, eyes”
  2. My grandfather wrote 200 love poems for WC between approx. 1969 and 1977, give or take a few years on either side.
  3. “willow hands”
  4. “voice of moon”
  5. “that smile–that moment–light, eyes, light”
  6. He wrote the words “light” and “eyes” within the same line in 5 out of the 200 poems, and within a couplet in 20 poems.
  7. “fingers point, not to the moon, but to the light, reflection of sun”
  8. He seemed to write the poems during the spells when he was most in balance, most healthy. The gaps fall mostly during the manic and depressive times.
  9. The poems stop abruptly–the final 30 poems seemingly written in quick succession, and then nothing.
  10. Journal entries that seem to be written during the time of the final poems focus mostly on fears of global warming (as it was called then) and the addictive drive of over-consumption fueling capitalism. One journal entry around this time states, “WC was right. The personal is no longer the political. It is on us to transcend the personal, pointing all of our direction to the salvation of human kind, if we are to unhook survival from the destruction of the planet. Chinese finger trap.”
  11. An early poem to WC was titled “Chinese Finger Trap.”
  12. “fingers of rush and toes of sedge”
  13. “river hair”
  14. The later poems seem to mourn loss of youth, loss of freedom, the assumption of burden, responsibility
  15. “and still, the light.
    the ending.
    the sorrow when you turn
    the road descending.
    in the depths
    of the meadow
    under the forgotten
    stone, a single
    sprout rises.
    willow finger,
    points and I witness
    the moon.
    This is enough.”

WC – What I don’t know

  1. What name hides behind these initials
  2. Age
  3. Residence
  4. Race?
  5. Sex?
  6. Still alive?
  7. Did WC ever exist, or was WC a poetic invention?
  8. Was WC actually a student?
  9. What purpose did WC serve for my grandfather?*
  10. Did WC, if WC existed, know how my grandfather felt?
  11. Where is WC now, if WC existed?
  12. Is it completely foolish of me to try to find WC?
  13. If I find WC–if this person a) existed in the first place, and b) is still alive, and c) lives somewhere I can get to, should I tell WC how my grandfather felt?
  14. Does WC have a right to see these poems?
  15. Is it ethical or unethical to share the poems?
  16. Is it better to know or not to know?

* Initially, WC seems to provide a grounding influence–perhaps the neurochemicals of infatuation helped to counter-balance the bipolar imbalance–maybe, at first, love was my grandfather’s way of self-medicating. This seems to have reached a peak around poem 105. By poem 125, the direction seems to switch to the political–to using the energy of love to fuel action.

The lists didn’t do that much good, except to fuel her desire to find out more. She could worry-out the ethics of the revelation later. At this point, what mattered was discovering who was WC.


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Prompt for May 15: “Write A Story In The Form Of A List,” from StoryADay.org.
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Story A Day for May, Day 14

yourstyle

Your Style

The meeting fell silent. What had she said, this time?

“No fricking way we’re accepting money from some TERF club. Not on my watch. Not selling out on my frigging watch.”

They stared at her, with their little goatees, their hippie glasses, their pierced faces, their pure, innocent shock.

Then they looked down, or looked away, or took a slow, concentrated sip of organic Indian tea, free-trade of course.

“Aubrey,” said Sasha, after she set her teacup down, “we’re in no position to refuse funding, from anyone. We can’t afford to.”

“No. What we can’t afford is to do any damn thing that puts us in partnership–in  league–with a group that’s trans-exclusive. What kind of message does that give? How does that support any of the people we serve? We’re inclusive! Either Wmyn Now changes their stance, publicly, openly, and loudly, or we have nothing to do with them. It’s that fucking simple.”

The Wing City board meeting ended after that. They’d finish the budget and explore other funding sources at the next meeting, after they’d had a chance to research other options, reconsider Aubrey’s points-or resign.

Aubrey had moved to this West Coast university town a few months ago to take the directorship of Wing City, a nonprofit LGBTQQIAAP community resource and support group. On paper, it was a great fit: her advanced degrees in gender studies, social work, and community activism, combined with her professional experience as a community activist over-qualified her for the job, but the position was important enough that an overqualified director was a plus. At any rate, in this university town, everyone, except perhaps the university president, was over-qualified.

The thing was, in so many way, Aubrey felt she was a terrible fit–not just for this position, but for the community. Sure, her mission of inclusion expanded the center’s reach, and the number of people participating in their programs had trebled since her arrival.

The misfit came in her style. She spoke loudly, fast, and over the other person, the more so, the more impassioned she was. As she grew louder, the others grew softer, and she spoke quicker and brasher to fill the space.

She was direct, too. She never came in from the side. She never hedged; “in my perspective,” “from another side,” “one might consider” never left her lips.

But surely, her directness was a strength. You knew where you stood with her, and you knew where she stood, and when there were differences, they were right out there in the open, to be tackled together.

Only, it takes two to tackle.

Most meetings ended like this one: They all knew where she stood, but damned if she knew their stance!

Darwin, the office manager, liked her at least. “They’ll come around,” he said. “And in the meantime, maybe you could just give them some space?”

So not her style.

She liked a lot of things about the town: progressive politics (Wmyn Now TERFS, notwithstanding), to-die-for organic produce in every store, the oh-so-out queer folk, the music festivals and public art, and the ocean and sky that stopped her heart. But she didn’t want to have to change herself to fit in. Diversity means more than accommodation: it means acceptance. And she wanted to be accepted for who she was, even if her linguistic style was different from the cultural norm.

Sure, she could code-switch with the best of them–and she would tone down when delivering public addresses or in individual conferences. But when she was wrangling policy with her team, she needed the freedom to speak as directly, as freely, as she wanted–and she extended that freedom to them, too.

She had one place where she always felt she could be herself: a hip, urban-style café around the corner from Wing City. Owned by a New Jersey transplant, there, she could be as brash as she wanted.

This little café became her refuge at the end of long days filled with meetings gone silent.

Waiting for her cold brew coffee after the shut-down funding meeting, she noticed an older, attractive woman approach the espresso bar. She’d seen this woman in the neighborhood a few times. She was a professor, most likely. She liked her smile.

“Hey,” said the woman. “I was just about to grab my pour-over and sit down. Care to join me?”

Even someone from the East Coast can handle small talk. They chatted for a while, the conversation growing louder, the jokes coming faster, Aubrey’s tone growing brasher.

The woman smiled, and then she said, “I like your style.”


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Prompt for May 14: “Pick a dominant thread for your story today, based on the MICE [Milieu, Intrigue/Idea, Character, Event] categories. Work towards the ending that fits the story type you chose,” from StoryADay.org. I chose milieu. Take a look at the prompt for more information and to see how you might want to use this or any of the other categories!
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Story A Day for May, Day 13

anyway

Anyway

So Solomon Elder had been in love, all those years, just as I’d suspected. Only he hadn’t been in love with me. It was as I sometimes thought, merely his knack for making everyone feel special. I could be forgiven for thinking I really was.

But I had harbored hope all this time. It was something I drew from, like a well when I needed to keep going. A scholar’s life can be solitary. I didn’t mind, when I thought that I was, perhaps, the secret love of a man with a great mind. I blush to think it and to think that I had wished it for so long.

I modeled my own approach to love after his: this concept of the lover transforming through the softening of internal structures that happens when we are in love. That is the purpose. It is the feelings, the way the specific neurochemicals of love open and broaden us. What matters is to experience that, and as we do, our best selves come to the fore, so we bring benefit to all we interact with. When that process happens as it should, it isn’t necessary that we express our feelings to the one who engendered them. This is what Dr. Solomon Elder taught, and in my hubris, I took this as his secret confession, and I lived my life accordingly.

How many times have I been in love? More than I can number. How many times have I confessed? Enough to count on a single hand, and each time I declared my affection, I felt selfish, in a way, unloading a burden onto the beloved, and like a traitor, betraying my mentor’s teaching.

But all this time, his unprofessed feelings were for another.

What purpose does it serve? For most of my life, I believed that each of our loves calls into being an aspect of ourselves that would otherwise remain latent. This was a subject of research and study for me. Of course, at the core lay my observations of my own personal development, and behind that, lay the question of what I brought forth in those who loved me, for example, in Dr. Solomon Elder. But if Solomon hadn’t loved me, and had loved, all those years, someone else, someone whom his granddaughter was now hoping to find, then I brought forth nothing in him, perhaps, or maybe nothing more than an inquisitive and devoted graduate student might bring about.

I suppose the truth at the core of all of this is that I loved him: I loved Solomon Elder from our first exchange, and I never professed my feelings. And what did he bring forth in me? Loving him carried me through. How did I manage to complete my dissertation, go on to gain teaching positions, publish articles? I didn’t want to disappoint Solomon.

We all felt that way. Perhaps we all harbored the secret wish that he loved us. And maybe he did, as every good teacher loves. But he didn’t write secret poems for each of us.

I thought of all those I’d loved–how many could I remember? The boy with the long ponytail and long eyelashes who took the first Plato seminar I taught. It would never have done to have confessed my feelings to him–he was a student, and I, a first-year lecturer. The baker at the coffee shop on the corner, who, every morning as I walked to the university, came out in her white apron, golden with flour dust, singing. I still love her–she gave me a sense of home that I draw on even now. And I would never tell her, for she had a husband, grown children, and busy days that began before dawn.

Just the other week, I fell in love. I was happy at the time for it to be a love encapsulated in a memory of a moment: her face, her brash words, that smile. I have been drawing on that these weeks, and I’ve grown stronger, at a time when I’ve needed strength.

But what if this were something different? Solomon Elder never loved me, it seems. He loved someone else, all those years. And so, what if I tried something different this time?

What would happen if I went to the café near the corner where I saw her? What if she frequented that café? What if I introduced myself to her, and we got to talking, and I heard that saxophone laugh of hers? “Life’s a bitch,” she had said, “and then we get on, anyway.”

I could use a friend like that. I think, even, I could use a lover like that.

I think I am, perhaps, through and done with the secret beloved. I am all about the confession now. Baby, I love you. Let’s see where that takes us.


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Prompt for May 13: “Start with a life-changing moment and lead your characters through the story to show us who they become,” from StoryADay.org 
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Story A Day for May, Day 12

records

Student Records

Every pen, like every hand, has its own characteristics. Kate has never found two that trail ink in exactly the same way. By comparing the ink scratches on the love poems her grandfather had written on rice paper with the lines and splotches in his notebooks and moleskins she was able to date the era during which the first batch of poems were written. She figured she had a five-year margin of error, which gave her a ten-year window. He had begun writing them during her childhood.

What a mystery are those we live with! What do we know of their passions, their loneliness, their secret joys? During the decade that Kate was his Katy-Moon, he also had WC, his private “eyes of sun.”

Now that she had a window of time, she had someplace to start in her search. The poems included enough references to the university–the fountain in the courtyard, the avenue of cypress, the statue of Thoreau–that it seemed possible WC could be a colleague or even a student. She sensed an imbalance of power in the relationship–older mentor to young scholar, perhaps. And that the love had been kept secret pointed to a student as the beloved, as well.

She called Professor Steinhart, the current chair of her grandfather’s old department.

“I need to see the rosters of my grandfather’s classes,” she said. “For research.”

“Can’t be done,” the professor said. “FERPA laws.”

She had anticipated he wouldn’t cooperate. He hadn’t forgiven her from refusing to edit her grandfather’s private journals for publication. Even though she’d switched to editing her grandfather’s poems, which the university press would eagerly publish, it wasn’t the same. The credit would befall the Creative Writing program, rather than Philosophical Studies.

She tried the registration office next.

“I need to put in a Public Information Request,” she said, “for the class lists from certain years. The classes were taught by my grandfather.”

“What do you need? Names or dates or subjects taught?”

“Names.”

“You can put in the P.I.R,” said the registrar, “but it won’t do you any good. The student names would all be redacted. You’d see how many, maybe, but no identifying information.”

“Not even initials?”

“Nada.”

She remembered Celeste Templeton’s offer. You must have all sorts of questions about your grandfather. I’d be happy to share.

That evening, after supper, she and Speckles walked up the river to the square, where Dr. Templeton’s house stood.

While her dog played with Celeste’s Australian shepherd, the two women sat in the kitchen. A lean gray cat leaped onto the table and curled in for a nap.

“I’ve been waiting,” Celeste said. “We can’t resist learning more, can we? About those we’ve loved the best!”

Kate felt her way along through the conversation. She wanted to dive right in, but first the lines had to be extended–they had to be drawn taut–and only then, could they traverse them into matters of the heart.

“Did you ever notice my grandfather take special interest in any of his students?” Kate asked, at last.

“Oh, your grandfather had the most amazing ability! Whomever he was talking to, that was the most important person. He had this way about him of giving you all. So when you spoke with him, you really believed him, after you thanked him for his time, when he said it had been his ‘honor.’ I never knew anyone with a knack for making you feel you were the most special, most promising individual ever.”

“I think my grandfather was in love,” Kate said, and she told Celeste about the box of love letters and the deathbed promise. “Who would he have been in love with? Do you have any idea?”

“And you really want to find out now?” Celeste asked. “After all these years? For what? What purpose?”

Why must everything have a purpose? Isn’t a feeling enough?

“It’s an intuition, I suppose,” Kate said. “I feel unsettled when I see the bundle of poems. I think of my grandfather, asking me to promise to tell someone, if I ever feel that way, and then I think of the clarity of his eyes when I asked him if he wanted me to help him get in touch with this person, during his last days. I think he would want it. Isn’t that enough?”

“If you think it was a student,” Celeste said, “I suppose we could look through the class lists. I might recognize some name. Remember something.”

“I can’t get them,” Kate said, explaining about the FERPA laws and the redactions.

“That’s nonsense!” laughed Celeste. “They’re just lazy butts. FERPA doesn’t extend to class rosters, only personal identifying information, addresses and such. Let me make a call or two.”

The next day, the office assistant for the philosophy department called. “I understand you’re looking for some old class lists of your grandfather’s for research?” she asked. “I think I’ve got what you need!”

“I’ll be there tomorrow!” Kate said.

“Better yet, you’ve got email, right? All our records are digital now. I’ll send them electronically.”

Twenty minutes later, Kate sat at the kitchen table, the printouts spread out before her. She found plenty of Chavezes, Campbells, Chaplins, and Carters, and a handful of Wendys, Wandas, and Willas, but she couldn’t find a single W.C. in all the lists.

She wouldn’t give up. She’d broaden the time-range. The initials had to be there, somewhere.


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Prompt for May 12: “Use the Ugly Duckling Story To Write A Balanced Story With The Life-Changing Moment In The Middle,” from StoryADay.org 
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