Friday, October 31, 2008

Everything Worth Reading

My post entitled "Healthfood and Lipstick" has been included in the latest edition of "Everything Worth Reading", an interesting and fun literary blog carnival which I recently discovered. I recommend surfing over for some good reading in your spare time.

You can find the home page of "Everything Worth Reading" here.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Six Word Story #2

Went to a festival, found love.


There is a myth that Ernest Hemingway was once challenged to write the best story he could write using only six words. His response to the challenge: "For sale. Baby Shoes. Never worn."

Sunday, October 26, 2008


I approach the door and reach for the brass knob mounted on the dark brown wood. I have turned this knob before, walked across this threshold before. But today is different, and I hesitate to act, cringe as I reach for that seemingly innocent metal ball that, when turned, will open the creaking door and place me in a position to which I loathe to return.

How many other hands have gripped this hunk of forged metal that serves as both totem and gatekeeper? How many others have hesitated just as I am doing now, wondering about the consequences of turning around, resisting the pull of emotion and history, and eschewing the experience that waits beyond this mahogany portal?

(c) 2008 NurseKeith

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Six Word Story #1

I lit four candles for her.


There is a myth that Ernest Hemingway was once challenged to write the best story he could write using only six words. His response to the challenge: "For sale. Baby Shoes. Never worn."

Friday, October 24, 2008

An Act of Kindness

To Whom It May Concern:

On a day long ago, on a street whose name can no longer be remembered, an act of kindness occurred that permanently and inextricably altered the course of a particular individual’s life.

This act of kindness, itself quite minor in the canon of possible human kindnesses, set into motion a series of events and synchronicities which, in hindsight, changed the course of history. When I say “the course of history”, I refer not to “history” in terms of the world economy or the rise and fall and nations or civilizations. I refer simply to the course of history as it pertains to a single human being, his life’s trajectory, and the multigenerational repercussions of his particular existence and the choices that shaped it.

One never knows what a simple act can engender, and there are moments in human intercourse when a word, a gesture, a facial expression, or a conversation can move mountains within a human soul, wherein the tectonic plates of emotion, memory and relationship grind together in such a way as to give birth to a continent never before felt by the human heart.

On this particular day, on that long forgotten street corner, an interaction took place. It was an interaction, however brief and seemingly innocuous, whose simplicity and apparent normalcy belied the fact that it shook this particular individual’s soul to the core, and his life---and the lives of so many others---would never again be the same.

Yours Sincerely

(c) 2008 NurseKeith

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Last Lecture

My dear friends, at this extraordinary time, we come together to share our thoughts as a community. These are days of upheaval and uncertainty, and it is akin to a last gasp of breath when one finds him- or her-self engulfed in the flames of history.

Over the centuries, humankind has collectively traversed a variety of troubling avenues, the huddled and snot-nosed masses blindly following its failed leaders through ill-begotten storms of misconduct, venality, and unrivaled greed.

Today, with so much of the world in disarray and many of our shipmates hastily (and quite sloppily, may I add) jumping ship, crying over spilt milk and the crumbling cookies of human avarice, we sit in the bleachers, eating popcorn, drinking soda, and laughing the laugh of the maniacally smug.

We told you so!” we cry through our cardboard bullhorns.

What did you expect?” reads the banner that we unfurl as the armies of forsaken CEOs, displaced workers, and bereft corporate automatons march by in loose formation on their way to God-Knows-Where.

The limits of power, corruption and lies have been discovered. The eternal power of Karma has most definitely come home to roost in a big way. and no Nobel prize winner or quantum physicist can convince us otherwise.

These are heady times for some, especially those who’ve seen the signs and already understood exactly where it was we were headed. But for others, for those sheep-like and trusting souls who dutifully jumped through the hoops set out for them like there was no tomorrow, it’s the end of the world. Like Michael Stipe once said, “it’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.”

So why, you ask, is this the last lecture, the final missive we will deliver from this bully pulpit of irony? Well, my friends, those of us who needed to learn our lessons have indeed learned them well and summarily moved on. And for those who still cannot see the forest for the trees, I can only say, in those immortal words from the 20th century, good night and good luck.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Quote: Coner Oberst

"What can you do?
Child, what can you do?
Sleep 'neath the stars
and toil in the sun."

---Coner Oberst

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Day

“Dios mio”, she wrote. “Que dia sera”! What a day it will be! How will I survive and do what I must do?

On this day, we will bury my mother, and I will become the eldest woman in the house. Before she died, my mother, God bless her, asked me to promise her that I would care for my brothers and sisters, supporting my father and keeping the family together and healthy. She said, “I know that this is a big responsibility for a girl of thirteen, but there is no one else to take my place, and your brothers and sisters need you.”

How I cried that day, asking her not to leave us. I cried in her arms and fell asleep with my head in her lap. Later, she woke me up with her coughing, her coughing that would not stop, even when the blood came, bright red against the towel she always held in her hand. How I hated those towels and handkerchiefs! They were my enemies, soaked with sickness, the sickness that would finally take away my mother.

I woke up extra early this morning, boiled a large pot of water for extra coffee and made fifty tortillas just the way she taught me. “Not too much salt, but just enough,” she told me. If my tortillas are a failure, I can always run down the calle to Dona Castillo’s, but that would cost so much more, money that Papa can’t really afford. Still, it’s nice to know that I can make up for my mistakes.

After the coffee had boiled, I put beans on the stove that had been soaking all night, fed the chickens, ironed my dress, and washed myself using the extra boiled water that I had set on the table to cool as I made the tortillas.

How did Mami do all of this every day for so long? She never complained, at least not to me. She always smiled, except when the coughing became so strong that she couldn’t bear to move a muscle. Can I really take her place? Can I do everything that she did, every day? And what about school? How will I go to school? Will I ever have time to play in the calle again when my friends come by and call my name? How I wish abuela—grandma---was here, but she’s in Heaven too, and I bet they don’t have to make tortillas in the morning up there.

After I ironed my dress and made sure the beans and tortillas and coffee were ready, I woke my brothers and sisters, but not before I stood in the doorway and watched their faces as they slept, three girls in one room, two boys in the other. Little Maria cried in her sleep last night, and I know she must have been dreaming that Mami had not died, that she would be in the kitchen this morning, barefoot as always, her hair hanging over her forehead as she prepared our breakfast, a smile on her lips.

(c) 2008 NurseKeith

Monday, October 20, 2008

Of Mystery, Drama and the Great Unknown

The smell of bleach fills the air. Bleach, blood, disinfectant, and water.

The corridors glisten from the overnight waxing. The low hum of machines can always be detected by those who listen carefully. Computers and machines are now the lifeblood of this facility, it having been decided by the powers that be that automation is the key to efficient care.

Behind each door a human story unfolds. Here a woman lies in wait for death, her still face illuminated by the thin light from the window. Her daughter sits silently by her side. In the next bed, a young woman recovers from an infection, the slow drip of antibiotics and saline working in tandem effort to send her home again.

On floors above and below, dramas take place from moment to moment, from hour to hour. Death wanders these halls freely, yet Life too has its sway. Skilled hands slice bone and skin; cantankerous limbs are guided towards their intended function; organs recover and fluids regain balance once again, and troubled minds are occasionally stilled.

The human body---so efficient, so greatly streamlined through evolutionary processes---is yet still so vulnerable from inside and out. Torturous kilometers of tubing deliver fluids where they’re needed. Digestive organs churn the staff of life into life itself. And the lungs---Oh the blessed lungs!---deliver those molecules of oxygen to capillary beds hungry to release their waste in exchange for that which they crave so mightily, so righteously.

As new life bursts forth from wombs engorged with blood, the journey begins anew. A head emerges, then shoulders and the remainder of a squirmy body covered with mucus.

How did those two original cells knows how to replicate themselves so efficiently? How can such life be born of the microscopic, the verifiably invisible? And how does such a lump of flesh become instilled with spirit and self? As this being lies in wait in the comfort of the womb, when does the soul manifest? When does this biological wonder receive its spiritual identity?

Within the woman dying down the hall, that baby’s first breath still breathes. Once upon a time, her rib cage was squeezed through that same vice-like canal, fluids pushed from the bellows by incredible force, almost volcanic in nature. And with that first breath of air, that first gasp, her body (which previously and paradoxically breathed only fluid) transitioned from the Aquatic to the Terrestrial. With that breath, her fledgling heart truly began its work. In that painful and exquisite moment, her birth was birth itself. Her breath was breath itself. It was then that her violent grasping at this new and mysterious world began.

(c) 2008 NurseKeith

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Health Food and Lipstick

She walks down the hallway, ill at ease, hands trembling. The bag on her shoulder is heavy. Does she regret what she said? Will she rue this day at some lonely time in the future? It was easy. It was so easy to be honest---cruelly honest. But was it cruel? Wasn’t it just reality? Wasn’t she just being authentic?

Leaving the building, she hurries down the sunny street, her shadow passing along the sidewalk, mingling with the shadows of the trees planted intermittently to provide some semblance of shade on hot summer days. The sound of a passing car radio playing an old Simon and Garfunkel tune transports her momentarily to her childhood in the 1970s: that old album cover, Art Garfunkel’s frizzy 70s afro, and Paul Simon’s silly flat hat and moustache. And when they sang of Mrs. Robinson, her child mind always thought it was about Mrs. Robinson on Lost in Space. Wasn’t that June Lockhart?

She passes by the healthfood store as the door opens, and that familiar and comforting smell of medicinal tea, baking bread and citrus lures her in. There are samples of organic cheddar cheese and crackers on a plate near the front door, and she helps herself. She makes a mental note that, of course they put out toothpicks for people to use to take a cheese sample, but if someone with very dirty or soiled hands fumbles for a toothpick in that little bottle, isn’t he or she going to contaminate the all of the toothpicks? Talk about fecal-oral cross-contamination! She shudders a little, grabs a toothpick, and makes sure to spear not one, but three small pieces of cheese, ignoring the sign that says “only one sample per customer, please”. Fuck that, she thinks. I spend at least $3000 a year in this place, so I can have more than one piece of cheese.
In the produce section, she spears a piece of melon from a plate with another of those ubiquitous toothpicks and moves on to the next section. Do I really need anything?, she thinks. Why I am even here?

Stopping in the cosmetic section, she checks out the display of natural lipsticks and dabs a few colors on her lips with the cotton swabs provided for just that purpose. Looking in the mirror, she notices a new wrinkle next to her left eye, and another one by her mouth. She frowns and the wrinkle by her mouth deepens. She smiles and it disappears somewhat. She frowns again. Smiles. Frowns. No lipstick today.

Turning into the aisle with the oils and spices and five million brands of soy sauce, she almost runs headlong into an acquaintance who regales her with a story of his recent adventures in Santa Fe with a Quebecquios shaman. She extricates herself as soon as possible, hoping not see anyone else. Sometimes, coming here is like Old Home Week and she hobnobs and chats with everyone and their mother, friends old and new, former colleagues, former lovers, future lovers. At other times (like today, for instance) it’s torture, and she turns each corner into a new aisle cringing, wondering how many more people she’ll have to elude before making it to the checkout counter.

Oh no! The checkout counter! One of the worst things is getting in line at the checkout, and then someone she only knows remotely gets behind her in line. They engage her in conversation, distract her from the task at hand, and complete the bloodletting, the draining of her vital energy that can happen when this place grabs her by the throat and reminds her of how long she has lived in this town, and just how desperate she is to leave.

Only now does she realize that she has thrown several random things in her cart that she doesn’t even remember choosing from the carefully stocked shelves. Did I grab someone else’s cart by mistake? And then she remembers: while Mr. Shaman-in-Sante-Fe talked, she pretended to listen as she selected a few things from the nearby shelves, just to have an excuse not to look at his pock-marked face and unsightly nostril hair. (Why doesn’t he trim that, anyway?)

Lost in a reverie in front of the overwhelming tea selection, she sees a tea called “Calm” and this brings her back to the exchange that happened not thirty minutes ago. She has bruised someone’s ego badly, let them down hard, and as much as she values her own sense of integrity and no-bullshit authenticity, a tinge of regret splashes across her mental screen. Did I really have to say all of that? Couldn’t I have edited myself just a little? Should I regret what I said? What I did? Is there no turning back?

Seized with guilt and a feeling of dread in the pit of her stomach, she abandons her cart in the tea aisle and hurries towards the door. Mr. Santa Fe tries to wave her down as he lifts his bags to his chest, but she pretends not to see him and emerges back onto the street, disoriented and feeling slightly feverish.

She walks ten, fifteen feet, looks back, walks a few more feet, and then freezes. She looks back towards the healthfood store entrance. Mr. Santa Fe exits, turns in the opposite direction, and disappears around the corner. Relieved, she heads back in the direction she had come in the first place, determined to take back at least some of the things she had said. I may still rue this day, she thinks.

(c) 2008 NurseKeith

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Coat

She opens the closet door and removes the beloved coat from its wooden hanger. Ah, this coat. Such a symbol of autumn’s anticipated, yet strongly resisted, arrival. The wearing of this coat represents the complete death of summer and the true beginning of the long sojourn that is the New England winter season, a creature that always seems to come too early and stay far too long, like a houseguest who overstays his welcome.

This coat, bought at a thrift shop on Cape Cod, perhaps fifteen years ago, is soft in all the right places. Inside the collar and sleeves, a soft silky lining prevents any exposed skin from even a hint of irritation.

It is as if this coat was tailored specifically for her body. The sleeves are absolutely the right length. When she raises her arms to pluck an errant leaf from an overhanging branch, the sleeve of the coat doesn’t rise so far up her arm that her forearm feels inordinately exposed to the chill air. But neither does her arm feel unnecessarily restrained by the sleeve as she raises it above her head. It is as if the sleeve allows her arm to move---no, it almost encourages movement---and she traverses through space without hindrance or concern.

And now for the pockets. She could rhapsodize about these pockets. They are just deep enough to provide her hands with enough space to be comfortable, yet not so much that they feel like potatoes being shaken inside a oversize shopping bag too big to hold such a small load. These pockets are lined with a synthetic fleece that provides just enough insulating warmth when it is most needed. However, if she has no use for the pockets, they are the perfect size to hold her gloves on one side and her keys on the other. Pockets can be so disappointing and annoying in their inadequacy. But not these pockets! No. These pockets welcome their use, and they lend themselves to use like a good pocket should.

So of course the frontal pockets are worthy of a rhapsody, but the inner pockets---well, they’re worthy of a sonata. There’s nothing so unsatisfying as a coat without an inner pocket. Granted, it’s usually men who long for an inner pocket in which to stow manly things needed during the process of post-modern hunting and gathering that takes place in towns and cities worldwide. That secret pocket wards off thieves and the sleight of hand of semi-talented pickpockets, yet it is also provides a place close to the heart for objects that would feel far too vulnerable if kept in an outside pocket and potentially exposed to the wild and untamed air. Yes, this inner pocket is like a sonata.

Before we move on to another part of the coat’s anatomy, let us consider the ultimate pocket, the pocket that she didn’t even discover until she’d owned the coat for several seasons. This pocket, diminutive yet terribly useful once discovered, lives on the left side of the inner lining. Unlike the easily negotiated inner pocket on the inside right, this secret pocket lives on the inside left, slightly lower down and out of the way, yet still delightfully reachable under duress.

This extra pocket is, interestingly enough, held closed by a tightly sewn button of mother-of-pearl (a secret delight of which only she is glowingly aware), making it safe and secure for any manner of crucial personal ephemera. For her, this small but mighty pocket always holds two twenty-dollar bills and an extra credit card, an insurance policy against a forgotten purse, or a purse annoyingly empty of the wallet that she sometimes forgets to transfer from the last purse that served active duty. There is also a tiny nail clipper living at the bottom of this pocket, and she cannot even count how many times it has saved her from her brittle nails that always seem to be breaking and splintering. How she loves this pocket as she walks the streets with the full assurance that she’s always ready for anything.

Finally, the buttons on this coat are the coup de grace. Like the button on that most hidden of inner pockets, these fully visible buttons are themselves also mother-of –pearl, and they are the perfect size that merrily allows for easy fastening and unfastening, all while making a gentle statement of grace and simple beauty.

Yes, the collar, the sleeves, the lining, the buttons, the pockets, the coat’s perfect length, even the familiar smell-----it all makes this coat a talisman, a marker, a buoy in the waves. Sometimes, in the middle of summer, she’ll just open the closet and caress this beloved garment, knowing that even as she dreads the coming of winter, the coat, in its magnificent but simple utilitarian beauty, will see her through the long, cold months ahead.

(c) 2008 NurseKeith