Monday, May 2, 2016

Night Pondering



What lingers in the dark?
What muffled horror?
What passing chill?
What monsters stand
and wait
and listen
for coming feet?

Warm breezes pass through screens.
This, a whispered calling,
a gentle summons,
peaceful, humble,
brings me,
camera in hand,
out.

Far from fields of barley,
late night coyote calls,
star freckled sky,
and solitude.
"Safety"
I exit
and on sidewalk step.

No roaring night life here,
no drunken people,
no speeding cars.
Slam on the brakes.
Stumbles,
not of feet
but souls.

I wander,
pause,
and breathe.

A yellow lamplight stands,
glowing of long past,
sad memories
for which I was
absent.

Lens open,
I gather together
stray pieces of light,
parts of shadow,
and dissmissed colors.
Now still
memories
trapped
within.

Illuminated trees,
reflections on water,
a lonely wooden bridge.
How different
the world is
in obsidian hues
with the faintest
kisses of light.

I pause and
breathe,
wonder.

In the darkness of night,
when fear writhes in hearts,
fevered nightmares come
from within me.
Streetlights
and
glowing stars
light the way
Home.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Of Weather, Piano, and Accidental Caffeine Dependency

A year ago, I was a polar bear sliding across the icy terrain of my yard. This year, the weather has been just as temperamental, alternating between the usual freezing temperatures of early March and the warmth of late spring. I prefer the latter. Walking to work in the cold is never fun for me, but I do recognize the beauty of the cold, for if not for red tipped noses and ears, I might not remember to love the kiss of the warming sun on my cheek. On the days when the weather has been pleasant, I walk for about an hour. It's a learning experience in some ways. I'm able to examine myself apart from the constricting world of concrete and right angles, where I am just me. I have learned and been reminded of the following.

  • Wild flowers in late winter make me laugh with joy.

  • I have a habit of addressing the animals I talk to as Beautiful. (No. They do not talk back.)

  • Finding an armadillo makes me ridiculously happy for some unknown reason.

  • Downhill was made for running down with reckless abandon.

  • God's magic and miracles are everywhere, from the enchanted threads of spiderwebs to the ground that supports the weight of my overflowing heart.

  • Outside heals wounds I don't remember I have.

When I'm not outside, I tend to be easily found near a piano, having finally begun learning to play this year. I've been a singer for years, but the piano has always held an enchantment for me. When I was a child, my mother would play piano in our house very rarely, but every time she did, I would hurry over to her as fast as my little legs would carry me. Sometimes, I would sit on the piano bench next to her until I couldn't make myself hold still any longer, but more often, I would dance, imagining a prince or just spinning in endless circles to the point that I either sat down or fell over from dizziness. She would play more often at my great grandmother's home, or my aunt would play. After they left that piano, I would scramble onto the bench and try to play like they had, my feet swinging in the air. Short, disconnected melodies would stumble from my finger tips, but as time went on, I seemed to create more dissonance than harmony, and I eventually left the piano to itself. Even my attempt to teach myself to play when I was in junior high was short lived.

This past fall, I was brought back to the piano, largely by Wolfe. He was a new friend who one day mentioned that he was going to go practice piano, and on a whim, I asked if I could come listen. Eventually, I would regularly join him when he went to practice. As he learned on YouTube to play new pieces of slowly increasing difficulty, I sat on the floor in the corner of the practice room, my head leaning back against the wall, and the piano wrapped me in its familiar voice, singing its ballads and lullabies. Wolfe has told me that he probably would have eventually stopped practicing if I hadn't been coming to listen. Without him, I likely would never have considered trying once more to learn the songs of the piano. Currently, we're taking a beginning level class together, and I am loving it. I find myself increasingly fond of three four time, waltzes in particular, but other pieces as well.


I have officially fallen in love with the piano once more. My sister was apathetic as to this development. However, once I mentioned to her that I was hoping to eventually be able to play theme music from our favorite anime (in particular Mikoto Suoh's theme from K Project), she took a sudden interest in my progress. I look forward to being able to play it for her eventually, but also to be able to play it myself, feeling the motion of the sound and letting it flow through me like electricity through wires.

Also of recent interest, I ran out of my usual morning herbal tea in early January. Mornings, cold ones in particular, tend to be rather hard to face without a warm cup of tea. In the face of the void my herbal left behind, I utilized a box of black tea for the rest of the month. It wasn't too different until I simultaneously ran out of the black tea and gained more of my usual herbal. The Monday I switched back was merely groggy at first, but eventually I became convinced that either my skull was attempting to liquefy or some kind of heavy gremlin was doing its best to wrap its jaws around my head. By evening, I had a low level migraine that was barely fended off by the caffeine in soda. The next day was marginally better, but still painful. That Wednesday, I decided that if my skull was going to throw a temper tantrum, I was not going to give it what it wanted. Thus, I have quit caffeine all together, including black teas and most sodas. I'll likely return to my previous ways in a few weeks (oh how I miss my usual dark sodas and the occasional black tea), but I don't plan on drinking black tea every morning anymore. Coffee is an absolute no. I refuse to start that habit. No matter how lovely it smells, I cannot abide the taste.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Warriors

Last month, I was sitting outside enjoying the warm weather, when a spot of color on the grey rocks caught my eye.


Most of my friends consider wasps to be generally evil and best dead or non-existent. To a point, I understand them. The stings are painful and being allergic would make the matter even worse. As for me, wasps have never bothered me. I respect them and leave them alone, and they return the favor. One journal entry from my junior high years details a class period in which I did my best to dissuade a wasp from flying through an open window, lest he be slain by my excitable comrades (I had named him Charles), and in some ways I am quite the same as I was then.

This wasp in particular was rather calm, choosing to walk rather than fly, which allowed me some interaction. I sat down and placed my hand beside him. He slowly crawled onto one of my fingers, crossed to the next, and then disembarked, a quiet and peaceful greeting. I pulled my camera out of my bag and took a few pictures of him as he roamed the rocky expanse. He was not threatening to me, physically or mentally, so I lay down on the ground watching him walk, the movement of his feet, the tilt of his wings, and his restful pauses. When I was forced to leave and continue my day, he was still there, and I cannot help but wonder what he might have told me if I could have understood.

Nearly a week later, I was lost in a train station of thought, not quite ready to board any train in particular. Contemplations, ideas, and dreams bustled about me, pushing, ambling, or simply standing in place as I was. A pondering waved as it passed and, not seeing where it was going, crashed into a rushing thought. The two of them fell over on top of memories of the wasp, which had been sitting cross-legged staring at the ceiling. My love of watercolor stopped to help them up, and there I was able to focus on the four of them, follow, and board the same train. The destination was an image and the desire to paint it.


I worked on it on and off for about a month, not because it was overly difficult or large, but because I was occupied with other activities as well. When I finally finished, I was excited. Yes, I messed up several times in several places. I almost gave up when I was working on the fire. But my wasp is so close to the image I had in my head that I don’t mind the smudges, smears, and regretted decisions as much as I might otherwise.

A flaming wasp in the rain to “cool,” but "cool" is not my intent.

A wasp is more than an annoying or even threatening bug to be slain on a whim. Sometimes, such actions must be taken, but not always. What is it like inside one's head? I imagine that sometimes a wasp must be awfully afraid. They live in a world so much larger in comparison to them than we do. How can such a small creature hope to survive in an existence teaming with giants and ogres? But wasps continue anyway, even striking fear into the hearts of their enemies. They are natural warriors with armor and weapons that they are never physically able to set down.

Humans really are small too. On some scales, we make about as much difference as wasps do. So why bother? Many people don't, but there are a few who are born warriors, much like wasps. They put their hearts on the line every moment of every day to push back the Darkness, everything from their own rage to the all too real nightmares of others, and they burn; they burn with a stunning light. The light and fire they carry within them has immense potential for destruction, their own as well as others', but they choose instead to protect. However, burning and fighting with such intensity wears on them, and often they long to stop their flight, to land, but the armor is part of their DNA, an exoskeleton. Even when they land, feet on solid ground, they can never take that armor off. So they fly, they fly through the darkness, inner light burning brilliantly, even when the sky lets loose torrents of rain, even when they feel infinitely small.

These are the Christians who pull us back on our feet when we fall, look us in the eye, and tell us it’s not the end of the world. They’ve been where we’ve been, and they’ve helped so many people before us. They remind us that sometimes we do have to fight.

I am not a wasp as much as I am a bee: fluffier and less likely to attack. Not everyone was designed to be a wasp after all, but we can still make a difference in our terrifyingly large world, even if that difference is only to a single flower.


Merry Christmas.
I’m so grateful for all of you, warriors or not.
Love,
Kara

Friday, November 13, 2015

In Case of Campus War or Invasion

College or University campuses are often much like their own worlds; even ones that are open to the public to wander about in have a different feel to them than the rest of the towns they occupy. Within campuses are different factions of students, usually created by residence halls, majors, and/or clubs. These factions are highly competitive, frequently competing with each other with tooth and nail in campus events.

One day it may not end with the games.

One day, a faction may rise, smearing the blood of their enemies across their faces (or maybe just the ketchup from the student cafeteria), and declare that they will take campus by force, regardless of offers to surrender peacefully.

One day they may spread to another campus in their maddened frenzy for power.

Or

Zombies, aliens, or both will invade campus.

Regardless, college and university students have various options to increase survival.



Prepare
Always be as prepared as possible before war or invasion breaks out. Your friends will be grateful for a reduction of team deaths or captures by the enemy on your part.

Campus Familiarity: Indispensable.

Layout: When running and/or hiding from an enemy, know where you are and where you are going. Trying to use a map will slow you down. Maps do not show you short cuts either. Take walks around campus often, exploring new areas.

Buildings: Know which buildings store what materials and which would make for the best base of operations. Is there chloroform in the science building? Where is the clinic, and what antibiotics are readily available there? Which building is easiest to barricade and defend? This is all important and should be taken into account. Unless the business building is the best built or closest to several buildings that you will need access to, it is not likely to make an efficient base.

Rations: Starving during war or invasion is less than ideal.

Campus Bookstore: The campus bookstore rarely has only books. Generally this is where students can find shirts, jackets, umbrellas, and other various merchandise that has the school name and mascot on it. There are also microwavable foods and candy bars. Clothes and food are fundamental rations.

Vending Machines: Know where the vending machines are. Take special note of what each one has to offer. Chances are, there will be some variation.

Store Runs: College and University students will often take trips off campus to buy food items that the bookstore or vending machines may not have, such as canned foods. When on a food run, purchase a little more than is absolutely necessary and stash it somewhere safe. Unless there is a sale, buying extra in bulk is not recommended because, as a student, you have little money and need to pay for laundry, which is still important at this point.

Dorm Rooms: Be aware of how much food is where. Chances are, many of your neighbors will die in the initial outbreak of violence as well as later on, and their food stashes will be free for your use.

Team: Yes, this does have to be a group project if you want better chances of survival.

Basic Team Building: This may be difficult for introverts (like myself) to accept, but long-term survival requires a team, and that means socializing beforehand in order to identify the best candidates. These people will need to be able to get along well under the worst conditions as well as have practical skills. Never select someone based on appearance. Betty may be pretty, but if she has nothing else to add, she'll likely get someone killed. If one of your candidates is in a relationship, either reject that one or be prepared to support the extra member (unless you wanted both of them anyway). Melodrama is a headache at best. Also: pick people who are just a little crazy, but also reasonable. Balance between logic and free creativity.

Recruitment: Be tactful. If they think you're insane, they'll have nothing to do with you.

Leader: Having a leader is crucial. This will be the person who will make decisions and has to get along well with the team. He or she must be logical and caring. Life must be valued, but willing to be sacrificed when necessary. It's a hard role, and while many may clamber for it, very few can be trusted with it. Be wise when selecting your leader.

Other Offices: You will need people of widely varying skill sets. Your team may designate jobs such as spy, procurer of transportation, etc. You could also have only the leader named and the rest simply teammates. So long as everyone is somehow useful, the team should hold together.

Weapon Planning: Anything is a possible weapon, and different team members will be skilled with different types of weapons. Know who is best with what and then provide it.

Alternate Plans: Have a plan B. Also have many, many more plans. Know where to flee on campus and off. Do any of your teammates live far away from campus and other civilization? Go there. Anyone have ammunition at home? Stop there on the way. But always, be willing to change your plans.



During
Team Work: Listen to your leader, cooperate with your team, and be willing to set yourself aside for their sake. A lot will go wrong, but it may not go as badly as possible.

Base and Rations: Be aware of how long you will be able to stay at your base. Rations for that location will eventually run out, even if you feel inclined to experiment with cannibalism (not recommended). Know how long your rations will last and how far you will be able to travel on those rations before needing more. Plan accordingly.



 Many thanks to Jason for his help with this post as well as for his valued friendship.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Amber


In memory of a dear friend. For her, those she touched, and those like her.

I'm beautiful
you tell me.
I am your dream,
but why am
I unable to sleep?

You want me near
you all times.
I haven't seen
friends or close
relatives for a while.

It's safe inside
where others
can't see me or
hurt what's yours.
You say I'm your princess.

You never mean
to hurt me.
You wish I would
understand.
I think I'm scared of you.

Maybe I do
deserve this.
Surely I am
the reason.
This is for my own good.

It's love?

If I let you beat me,
will you be satisfied?
If I do all you say,
will you stop hurting me?

Pain.
Screaming.
Broken skin.
Fresh, dark bruises.

Please let me rest.
I promise
you can proceed.
I beg you
a moment, please, of rest.

You fell asleep.
And I knew
If I stayed here
I would die.
I had to escape this.

No more.

I have turned my weakness
into strength,
My running blood
to amber,
gem of courage.

Because I was broken
I can help
heal those like me.
I reach out
into darkness.

They are lost in the dark
as I was.
I bring them home,
back to light;
they aren't alone.

I touch lives and change them.
Whole classrooms.
Individuals.
Forever
taking new course.

From weak to strong,
I am anew.
My Father calls.
"It's time to rest.

"Come Home."

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Letter to the Guitar Player a Few Nights Ago

Dear Stranger,

I came to the rocky cliff to sit on stone and watch the fading of the world below. Mere moments after, I heard you take your guitar out of its case and begin to practice. I didn't recognize the songs. One was on the verge of familiarity, but even if you had freed the words of song to soar in the evening light, I doubt I would have been able to name it. There are so many songs that I am able to warmly greet but a few and only nod in passing to others.

I watched a sky ablaze settle into deep smoke as mist arose, a wyrm insubstantial, engulfing ebony trees. I finally left, not quite half an hour later, as darkness obscured my already failing vision. You were still playing.

I paused on my way. "You play well."

"Thanks."

The shadows cloaked your face. I don't know who you are. I don't need to; the music was enough.

With thanks,
Kara

Saturday, August 1, 2015

The Used Bookstore

The buildings were old and weathered. Some sported paint and new signs, but the rest were comfortably the same as they had been for many long years. Walking along aged concrete amid the faintest sprinkle of rain, I glanced at the dusty windows of unused businesses. Where a comic book store had its short run, boxes, an old wardrobe, and an easel populate the darkness, illuminated only by the light shifting through neglected windows. A few more yards and a door greets me, paint chipped but cheerful regardless. I wrap my fingers around the metal handle and push gently, noting the pale semicircle on the floor that marks the door's daily repeated path. As I step inside onto the wooden floor, I take in my surroundings and close the portal. Two cats occupy the counter, one curled tightly in sleep and the other simply lounging, watching me with clear, green eyes. I know these cats, if only in passing. I have sat on the floor with them, running my hair stick back and forth across the uneven surface as they pounce, bat, and bite it.

When was I last here?

A year? More?

I make my way to the back corner where science fiction and fantasy are laced together on the shelves, followed by one of the cats. Grace tossed aside, he leaps from the counter and charges past the shelves; his little thudding feet leave echos trailing behind him. Immediately, he jumps upon a chair, staring at me with loving eyes. I lean over, allowing him to climb to my shoulder. There I stroke him, soft fur sliding past my finger tips, pulling a silky purr into the air. This is not enough however, and he continues to climb on me, finally settling on my back, leaving me bent over to accommodate. His feet tucked in beneath him, he is the contented victor, having conquered the giant. I stand, bent over like a broken doll still left on display and stare at the books on the bottom shelf. Cookbooks and photography. I make a mental note to return, but never do. A minute passes and the cat leaves with no explanation. I straighten and take the last few steps to my chosen genre.

Here, where spines wear authors and titles like strange garb from the far away lands in which they take place, I inhale and close my eyes, soaking in the atmosphere of the books that no longer have homes. This is a shelter, a place where those who find themselves unwanted are taken, a place where those who are lonely come.

The cat has returned. He sits beside my feet, talking to me. His voice fills the space around him as clearly as if it were solid matter ballooning from his small form. My gaze flitters across the shelves and comes to rest on a note taped to a nearby door.

"Do not let cats in this room no matter how much they beg."

He meows again.

"No." I tell him, gentle and firm, but I still smile.

Moments later, one of the store workers enters that back room, and the cat slips in. She calls to him, trying to navigate the stacks of boxes, all of which hold promising books. He proves stubborn however, and refuses to emerge.

I return to the books. There are names I recognize and names I have never before encountered. Goblin Moon by Teresa Edgerton catches my eye, as does The Gnome's Engine. I start my book pile with them. I've never heard of the writer, but if I only read authors I already knew about, I would have far fewer books and much less happiness. I step to the side and lift my focus a few shelves higher. There, tucked away in shadow, are various works of Patricia McKillip. With a quiet sigh floating to the floor in the company of now startled dust motes, I carefully bring down Od Magic, still robed in Kinuko Y. Craft's cover art. This is a piece of my beginnings. I remember curling up with my mother under the covers of her bed, sunlight gleaming in the windows as I listened to her read, her voice crafting poetry from prose. Od Magic was one of our favorites, the color of the cover matched by the color of McKillip's descriptions and characters. Yes, well known and loved, this book will accompany me home as well. I also select Riddle of Stars, having never read the trilogy before, and had I unlimited time and the ability to do so, I would clutch more books to my heart and bring them home like baby birds in need of a mother, but Earth spins on her toes with no intention of slowing, no matter how desperately I may plea.

Forcibly removing myself from the shelves where temptations beckon me sweetly, but not quite ready to leave the quiet little store, I cross the floor again, this time entering a little reading nook, populated by chairs, a couch, and a few small tables the perfect size for a pile of books and a laptop to comfortably sit together. The nearest table is taken by a dozing fellow. A little out of shape, his dark hair is warm from sunlight. I give him a polite hello as I take the chair closest to him. He opens shining eyes and answers with a soft meow and a tail twitch. We talk in whispers, gentle sounds in different tongues, as I rub behind his ears. We can hear the store workers talking.

"Brody got in the back again." Her voice rests somewhere between concern and irritation.

"I'll go get him." A man answers, seemingly resigned.

This place is owned and run by a family. They don't aim to make it large or particularly profitable, so it stays small and quiet near the edge of the square in a town where most citizens would rather go hunting than read, and there is nothing wrong with that. I like the small and quiet. I love the empty spaces and dancing shadows. I enjoy the peace here.

The door to the back room opens again, and I hear the man talking to Brody. "Go over there. There's a girl over there. She'll pet you."

Sure enough, I hear once more the echoing of little cat feet. Brody crashes onto the table between me and his brother. Tail high, he greets me with trilling song as I restack the toppled books. These he chooses to rub his cheeks against whilst sprawling across my purse.

"You can stuff him in your purse and take him home with you." The man reminds me of my father, not fond of cats, but loving people who are, and thus doomed to look after the small, bothersome beasts. Regardless, they are a part of his team.

I laugh. "I already have enough cats at home."

"Another cat person," he chuckles to himself before walking away into the forest of covers, spines, and pages.

I never once looked up from cats or books to see his face, to sketch in my memory how his face folded when he smiled or the manner in which he took a single step.

Eventually, I ease Brody off of my bag with apologies and careful movements, finally making my way back to the front desk. Somehow, I still have credit here, and it applies to all the books but one. I pay what is due and thank them, slipping back out the door with a little wave goodbye to the cats. It's sunny out by now, and I wish it wasn't. Rain, however light, always seems right when the day involves a used bookstore, especially a quiet one, but I count my blessings that the books stay easily dry.

Once in the car, I flip the pages of each book, smiling at them lovingly. Each used bookstore smells slightly different, as if the books have been talking to each other, sharing their stories and trading news of outside places. One day, when I am old and many of the books in my library are even older, my skin will be wrinkled and the books' pages will be yellowed, and both will still be filled with love and quiet.

And maybe, just maybe, a bit of cat hair.