Not Quite Insomnia

Late Night CoffeeThey say writers write when they can’t sleep.

I am not a writer.

Here we go again.

What on earth are they doing?

Do they have any idea what time it is?

It’s 2 A.M. and they’re revving engines, again.

I should call the law on them, but I’m too tired.

Besides, best not rock the boat.

Well, so much for peaceful sleep.

I won’t be going back to bed anytime soon.

Better make some coffee and fire up the computer.

They say writers write when they can’t sleep.

I can’t sleep.

I’m writing.

Does that make me a writer?

This post is being published as part of Writing 101. Challenge 12: Write a post with roots in a real-world conversation. Include foreshadowing.

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Home Again

Main Street Honesdale POSTCARDI spent eighteen years of my life in that house. For six of them, I couldn’t wait to leave. Now that I’m asked to recall it, I find my memory lacking. If I close my eyes and imagine myself back in the seventh grade coming home from school, perhaps I’ll remember more.

I always thought I lived on the edge of nowhere in rural Pennsylvania. Rolling hills, farmland, towns so small if you blink you’ll miss them. You can pass through an entire postal code without seeing a single house. Our address listed a town, but the town line was half a mile away. Town itself was a mile. Beyond our house things really spread out.

The driveway is long: 0.2 miles. At one point it was paved; now, not so much. I can walk it blindfolded and have walked it in the dark on moonless nights. On the right: a pond where we swim in the summer. On the left: an old horse pasture where, as a kindergartener, one of them tried to eat my jacket. Years later, we buried my dog Duke with one of the horses. Opposite his grave are some fruit (peach?) trees. Cross the creek. As a child I feared falling into the creek, but I don’t know why. It’s not the kind of thing that could happen accidentally. In the summer, the creek would often flood its banks and cover our driveway, especially if debris caught in the culvert. Finally, there’s a steep hill. A path to the left takes you into the woods. I once fell on that trail while Duke walked me; I bashed my knee on a rock and needed stitches. The hill itself is perfect for sledding, but I’m not supposed to do that. Supposedly it’ll make the hill too slick. At the top of the hill is our house, the only house on the drive. Set back from the road, we have our own undisturbed slice of the world.

The front yard is more of a front hill. It flattens out eventually. When my parents inevitably send me outside, I have a tree with a tire swing and climbing rope and wide branches perfect for reading. My dog Wulf – a Black Lab/Rottweiler mix – enjoyed the rope more than I did; he’d play tug-of-war with the tree. Can you guess which part of the tree I like most?

We have a back yard, too. When I was younger, Mom and I would play whiffle ball or throw a Frisbee. Sometimes we cook hotdogs or roast marshmallow or make s’mores in our fire pit. I once baked bread over the open flame using an old “Carthaginian recipe” for a school project.

A big green shed stands in the woods out back. At various times it’s housed chickens, pigs, and firewood. Not all at the same time, though. One of the pigs grew so heavy it broke through the floor! I hate hauling wood from the building. I used to be afraid that snakes or spiders would crawl in there for winter protection. Sometimes I was right.

I’m not sure what color the house was when I was twelve. It was either yellow or blue. I remember painting the wood siding with my sister. I got shocked by an outlet while washing the siding. When we were done, she painted a blue smiley face on my stomach.

We have a garage, but don’t park a car there. Instead, we store canned goods, groceries, lawnmowers, and other stuff like that. During deer season, it’s where we hang deer for processing. It has a stale, musty smell, the exact opposite of the semi-damp, pleasant musty smell of Grandma’s basement.

Instead, enter through the kitchen. Small but cozy, I seem to remember something always cooking either in the oven or in a crock pot. If not, it’s in the fridge waiting to be heated. In the winter, I used to sit under the kitchen table with my feet on the radiator. In time, this place would be taken over by Wulf. When Mom baked cakes or pies or pizza, he’d end up half covered in flour. There’s one tall built-in cupboard, used for storing cereal and baking ingredients and paper goods. It’s perfect for hide-and-seek except it’s the first place anyone would look.

The dining room and living room are one long room divided by flooring. The dining room had old linoleum, cracked and faded; the living room had carpet, its floral pattern enhanced by countless spilled drinks. Both have since been replaced: the linoleum with wood laminate and the carpet with newer carpet (blue Berber with ScotchGuard).

The dining room is the center of the house. From it you can go to the front porch (a tiny raised concrete patio since replaced by a large wooden deck), the living room (TV, couch, Dad’s recliner), or my sister’s room (I didn’t go there often).

Stand in front of my sister’s room and turn left. There’s a hallway there; shelves and racks covered by curtains hold my parent’s coats, the vacuum cleaner, extra bedding, and the family collection of board games. At the end of the hall is my brother’s room. I didn’t go there often, either.

Come back from my brother’s room and pass through the dining room to another hallway. Down it and on the left is the bathroom. I think it had a tile floor, but it was replaced sometime in my childhood with laminate. An old, in-wall medicine cabinet with lights on either side is set into the right-hand wall. The bathtub is on the left. We have a laundry chute to the basement. This is also a good hiding spot, but is the second place people will look.

At the end of the hall is my room: bed, bookshelves, radio, wardrobe, parents’ closet, and one small window set high into the wall. It was here I learned to love literature and classical music. When I lived here, posters of wolves covered the walls and ceiling.

You have to go through my room to get to my parents’ room. Previously a sunroom, its large windows make it perfect for watching summer thunderstorms. Mom does her sewing out here. I guess the light is perfect for it.

Go back to the kitchen and down the stairs to the basement. Be careful: the stairs are steep. I once dropped my science project (hydroponically grown plants) down these steps the night before Science Fair. I still took 3rd place! The basement is where the washer and dryer are. There’s also a toilet, but you’d only want to use it in an emergency. Dad’s workbench is down here. It’s where he tinkers and cuts meat when necessary. At the back of the basement and near the furnace is where we stack wood. Be careful when stoking the fire, a stray spark can start a fire. My best friend burned his house down because he wasn’t careful. One day we had a chimney fire at our house. My brother and sister pulled the chimney down and saved the house. A door from the basement leads to the garage. On the door is a dartboard. I took out all kinds of frustration here. I never became very good at darts, though.

Well, that’s the house. Hope you enjoyed the tour!

This post is being published as part of Writing 101. Challenge 11: Today, tell us about the home you lived in when you were twelve. Pay attention to — and vary — your sentence lengths.

Pennsylvania Sympathy Ham

KummerspeckThe Germans have a wonderfully exact word (is there any other kind in German?) called kummerspeck. Idiomatically, it refers to weight gained from emotional overeating. Literally, it means “grief bacon.” In the part of Pennsylvania where I grew up, we had a similar term. We called it “sympathy ham.”

I have no idea where the term came from, but I don’t think it’s related to the Germans (unfortunately). We’re a bit too far removed from the Pennsylvania Dutch/Deutsch for a cultural impact. Nevertheless, I suppose it’s possible.

Sympathy ham only came around when there’d been a death in the family. Where others might bring casseroles or stews or things like that, the people of Wayne County brought ham. Lots and lots and lots of ham. Baked ham, smoked ham, ham sandwiches, ham soup, and yes, ham casseroles. Glorious, salty ham.

Wait a minute! This is supposed to be about foods for celebration, and here I am talking about death. To you, a funeral is not a cause for celebration (unless you’re one of those kinds of people), but for me, a funeral is a celebration of life. We sit and talk about our loved ones: the things we remember fondly, their quirks and idiosyncrasies, family stories they had shared, and sometimes wondering about things we’d found out just a bit too late. All the time we munch on ham: ham with mustard, ham with mayonnaise, cold ham, hot ham, ham in all its varieties. Think of it like a modern wake, but without the alcohol. Great. Now I’m stereotyping. Sorry.

When my grandmother died, the ham seemed infinite. Our car seemed packed with it after church; our doorbell would ring, and there was more ham; I think someone even brought ham to the viewing. Perhaps I’m remembering that wrong. Whatever. Our refrigerators and freezers were soon maxed out with majestic ham. I think we ate ham for a month or more.

I know that science and medicine claim that salt may help stave off depression and that depression is likely to kick in after the death of a loved one, but I don’t sit down and eat ham thinking “man, I’m depressed. I need more salt.” I eat it because of the memories. Because when I eat ham I’m back in Pennsylvania sitting with family talking about days done by and things I never knew, things I half remember, and things I know all too well. Ham is the catalyst for my family’s history. Without it, I would be lost.

 A Note from the Author

Writing 101 has challenged me. Today, we’re supposed to write in our own voice, as if we were talking to a friend over coffee. So that’s what I did. I made myself some coffee and had a friend ask me “So, what’s sympathy ham?” and typed my response as if I were verbally answering them. It might be disjointed, but that’s how most of my conversations go: I start out technical, then realize I’m being too technical, and start to dial it back. Thanks for your continued patience.

This post is being published as part of Writing 101. Challenge 10: Tell about your favorite meal — the one that was always a treat, that meant “celebration,” or that comforted you and has deep roots in your memory. Tell the story in your own distinct voice.


The Four of Us Are Dying*

Crunch

Darkness envelops us.

Crunch

We seek warmth in shrouds of pinks and blues and blacks.

Crunch

Noise. Oh, the noise – loud and obtrusive and filling cranial nooks and crannies with sound.

Crunch

Blinding light flashes.

Darkness

Light

Darkness

Crunch

Noise grows louder; cold, colder.

Aromas expand and diffuse and permeate.

Hunger

Crunch

Groans of anguish and pain and regret join the cacophony of voices both loud and soft and joyous and angry.

Darkness

Noise

Crunch

Cold

Hunger

Crunch

End the madness:

Turn on the lights and bump up the thermostat.

Pause the movie and come get supper.

Quit complaining about Taekwondo.

Stop chewing ice.

Crunch

*Apologies, Mr. Sterling.

This post is being published as part of Writing 101. Challenge 8: Write a post without using adverbs.

Morning Routine

RunningBusinessmanWhy is it always like this? I leave the house early and end up being late. All I want is my coffee – two cream two sugar – and blueberry donut. The guy ahead of me must be an utter moron. Seriously, how long does it take to place an order? Who goes to a donut shop not knowing what they want. Seriously, it’s coffee and donuts. That’s it. Nothing complicated. Just hurry it up already, not all of us have all day.

???????????????????????????????I’m running on empty here. Night shift at the hospital ER takes its toll. I just need something to make it home. Black coffee should do it. Don’t forget something for the wife; she’ll be leaving for work soon. I wish we could spend more time together. At least we have some time together. I know some families won’t have that any more. Not after last night. Now which one does she like again? The regular with chocolate glaze or the chocolate with regular glaze? I know she’ll eat whatever, but I’d like it to be right. She sacrifices so much. Where is my wallet? Don’t tell me I left it in my locker again.

???????????????????????????????It’s 7:15. I’ve been at work since 4:00. Three hours, fifteen minutes. Fifteen minutes to break. Then four and a half hours to end of shift. Don’t forget to pay the electric on the way home. Sleep til 4 and then evening shift at the diner. Home by 10:00. Is this my weekend for Jared or not? One more day to the weekend. I actually have all of Sunday off. I haven’t been to church in ages. I should go. If I’m not sleeping. Oh look: another customer. Whatever pays the bills.

This post is being published as part of Writing 101. Challenge 9: Write a scene from three different points of view.

Batteries Not Included

Of life’s many decisions, this was one of the most trivial. It was also one of the most divisive.

CountOfMonteCristoCover“Do they have any cheaper than this? I can’t see spending this much money if I’m not sure I’ll like it.”

“Let me check.”

[A FEW MINUTES LATER]

“Yeah, they range from $7 to $15.”

“Well, while you were gone I found the same thing for 99¢.”

Great, here we go again: Book v Nook. I could tell you right now how this conversation will go:

NookDontPanic
I just realized the Guide was an ebook. Crap.

“You know I don’t like ebooks.”

“But it’s cheaper.”

“Maybe, but how much did we have to spend on that thing in the first place?”

“That’s irrelevant. It’s what I wanted for my birthday. You don’t have to use it if you don’t want to.”

“But then I won’t be able to read it.”

“Well then, that’s your fault. I don’t see what you have against my Nook anyway.”

“Hey now, I gave it a shot. Do you have any idea how hard it was to read Ulysses without marking pages or taking notes? It was the most miserable reading experience of my life.”

Ulysses Cover
Don’t read this as an ebook. Just don’t.

“Well I like it. I can read in bed without holding a heavy book over my head.”

“Books don’t lose charge.”

“I can hold an entire library.”

“My books are books. You’re just holding a screen.”

“My books are cheaper.”

LeatherBooks“Which mean mine have value. Ever hear of leather-bound?”

“And how many of those have you read more than once?”

“ALL of them!”

“More than twice?”

“Most of them…”

“Your books take up so much space we could build a whole other house out of them.”

“You mean a house with built-in bookshelves?”

“No, that’s not what I meant and you know it!”

“Look let’s not argue. It’s not worth it.”

“Yeah, you’re right. So which one do you think is best?”

“Well, this one has decent cover art.”

Let’s skip all this, shall we?

“Well, this one’s $9, the typeface is alright, and the cover art is decent.”

“Looks good to me. Do you want another candle for the living room?”

PaddywaxPoeCandle
Why, yes. Yes I do.
A Note

This is a work of semi-fiction. The conversation here is an amalgam of previous conversations between my wife and me. It is posted here with her knowledge. FWIW: She laughed.

This post is being published as part of Writing 101. Challenge 7: Write a post based on the contrast between two things — whether people, objects, emotions, places, or something else. Write your post in the form of a dialogue. 

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