Writing Prompt: The Mortality of Pain

You are immortal. You can neither die from illness nor mortal wound, but you can feel pain. And you are a really shitty fighter. (from Reddit/r/writingprompts)

I wiped the blood from my lips, the split had already healed, and kicked a toe tentatively into the ribs of the man sprawled out in front of me. He groaned. Well, he’s still alive. Frank can’t say I never did anything nice for him. I stepped over his prone form, threw the brick I’d just used to incapacity Frank in the nearby dumpster and tried to walked nonchalantly out of the alleyway.

I’d just won another ugly fight, that by rights I had no business winning. That’s the thing about immortality though. I may be a shit fighter, who can’t throw a punch or aim a weapon to save my life, but then again, my life doesn’t need saving.  When you’ve got nothing to lose, you can fight pretty damn dirty, if not skillfully. Taking risks is no risk at all.

I got drunk sitting at a bar in Shreveport once and told my whole sordid tale to the bartender. After some sidelong looks, he finally decided to ask me a question.

“Does it hurt though, when you get hit, or whatever?”

I’ll tell you what I told him then. Yes, it fucking hurts, but here’s the thing about pain. The real power pain has over you is the fear that comes with it. When you hurt badly enough, your mind starts telling you that death is near. Everybody fears death, everybody except me. But, it’s that fear that makes the pain so much worse. Since I can’t fear death it takes the teeth out of the pain I experience. I know the wound and the pain that goes with it will never be mortal, so I grit my teeth and get through it. If the pain is intense enough it can be distracting, but after this many centuries, I’ve disciplined my mind enough to get through it.

Sometimes though, the best cure for what ails you is a stiff drink in a quiet bar…which was going to be hard to come by on a Friday night in New York. I stuffed my hands in my pockets, ducked my head and made my way through the chill evening figuring the only solace I might find tonight would be in my own apartment with that weird cat I picked up a few years ago and a bottle of Scotch. You know what doesn’t dull with immortality and the passage of time? Anticipation.

Hell’s Own Three Miles and the power of pushing your limits

I was over four hours into a hike and I’d covered about two and a half miles.  I’d been clinging to a boulder and scree strewn knife blade of a path high up on a cliff face along the northern edge of the Savage Gulf state park in Murfreesboro, TN. I’d been in the woods for 4 days and I had 25 pounds of gear and food on my back — everything I’d used to survive in the woods so far this week. I was nursing a knee injury and had blisters throbbing on both feet. There was at least another half mile to go before I made it to the campsite marked on my trail map. To my left was a rocky drop of over 50 feet. To my right was a sheer cliff that went up another 50 feet. The campsite was supposed to be at the top of that cliff. In front of me, the narrow trail disappeared around a curve of the cliff face.

Look guys! It's only 50 feet up!
Look guys! It’s only 50 feet up!

I took a deep breath and continued hopping from boulder to boulder. Sometimes they wobbled and I’d stop to get my balance and footing before I could take my next step, hence the slow pace. This is what hiking aficionados call a “technical hike” and I was getting close to hitting my limits. Still, there was no camping on this rocky path. The only thing to do was keep moving forward. My husband was a few feet ahead of me. We were both wincing with every step. His knees had taken a beating this week too.  When we rounded the corner the trail seemed to dead end into the sheer cliff face. We looked around confused and then noticed a trail marker halfway up the cliff and what could generously be called hand and footholds along the rock wall. They were  subject to rushing water in heavy rains judging by the amount of water erosion evident. I spared a moment to glance gratefully at the cloudless sky. It was time to climb.

Vertical climbing with 25 pounds on your back is a unique experience. Doing it after a long day of hiking, worn down by injury and too little food is another thing altogether. Another 20 minutes of climbing, slowly and painfully up that wall and we found ourselves at the top of the cliff with a wooded trail stretching out in front of us. We came upon a sign that said our campsite was close by.  Once  at camp, we had picked the perfect spot, set up the tent, stowed gear and made a canteen filling run to the nearby spring. We settled into building our fire and making dinner and stopped to consider the day we’d just had. It was the most physically demanding hiking either one of us had ever done and probably the most physically demanding thing I had ever done in my life.

You see, this was my first multi-night hiking trip.  I was 36-years-old and was only nine months into my first real efforts to get fit. This week long trip represented my trial by fire and that day’s treacherous hike along Hell’s own three miles was my final proving ground. To my utter surprise, I found that I had emerged more or less whole at the end of it, and had enjoyed it.

For most of my life I had lived well within my own safety zone. I never pushed boundaries. I never worked harder or did more than I knew I could. It was a safe and comfortable existence, but after 36 years it was also less than fulfilling. This trip into the wilds of Tennessee was my miniature crucible. I’d been steadily pushing past my comfort zone working out 3-6 days a week and we’d taken a few overnight backpacking trips before, but this trip was where I proved my own capacity to myself. I knew from the outset that the trails would scare that old, safe me. I knew the distances we’d have to cover on some days would have been deemed impossible mere months before.

Just one of the rewards of life on the trail.
Just one of the rewards of life on the trail.

On the last day of the trip we had almost 10 miles to cover and we wanted to get it done in 4-5 hours. This trail was relatively level and not very technical, but it was 4 more miles than I had ever hiked on a single day. I got up, tied up my hiking boots and trucked across the miles. My knee throbbed and my blisters oozed and all I could think of was how sad I was that my trip was ending. When we got back to civilization everything felt too plush and too loud and not nearly as good as sitting next to a campfire in the middle of nowhere. My old expectations for comfort were officially blown apart.

Since my trip, everything seems more doable. When I run up against a situation that would normally have made me hesitate or want to simply quit, I now find I enjoy pushing into and through that uncomfortable phase. That ability to be ok living with discomfort and risk has generally made me a better person. I’m more open to new ideas. I can try new things and see things from more perspectives, even the ones that feel risky.

Bottomline: Find your crucible and kick its ass.  You’ll be better for it.

 

Writing Prompt #4: What’s in your bag?

Write about the things in your handbag or purse

It could be argued that the things we choose to carry with us say something about who we are. When I look through the things I don’t leave home without I tend to remember the care with which I selected each item. As a whole I like the picture it paints.

Living in an area where mass transit isn’t much of an option makes my car keys a daily necessity. My key ring is pretty minimalist. I like to keep it small so they can comfortably fit in my pocket. I am a very novice leatherworker and a wrist loop made from some suede strips I have with a snap and ring is next on my project list.

Like all modern humans my phone feels like an extension of my arm. Not having it leaves me feeling a little lost with a panicked sweat threatening to break out. I make my phone case pull double duty. Since I never forget my phone and was prone to forgetting my wallet I picked a phone case that is a wallet too. It looks like a tiny old leather bound book. That appeals to the Luddite in me that tends to rail against the hold modern technology has on my attention.

When I might need my hands free or my women’s pants fail me (repeatedly) by not having functional pockets I will carry a purse. After pining over a big floppy tobacco brown leather bag for too many years my parents gave me one—probably to shut me up. This one is a beauty too. I’ve already stained it in a few places. The leather is pebble grained and so soft it looks like a pile of leathery goodness laying on the floor, and oh the pockets. Pockets inside and outside. I’m going to blame women’s clothing for it’s shocking lack of pockets for my general obsession with having them in my accessories. In each of those pockets I have a small stash of extraneous stuff that I like to have, but don’t always need.

There’s the product of my first leather working project, a little envelope style coin purse of dubious quality, filled with the coins I always forget to pull out on the rare occasion I pay in cash. An old Altoids tin serves as a miniature first aid kit with Band-aids and Neosporin. A pack of gum (Trident Cinnamon) and a packet of tissues share space with at least two or three pens clipped to the side of the pocket.

This is where my old-fashioned streak really kicks in. I have about 40 fountain pens and nearly as many bottles of different color inks to fill them with. I have vintage ones that belonged to my husband’s grandfather and brand new ones that were gifts. A girl can never have too many pens. One of the joys of packing up for a day is figuring out which pen and ink combos make the cut.

A recent splurge item also resides in my purse. After keeping a pair of drugstore sunglasses intact for three years I bought myself a nice $100 pair of Warby Parkers. They are just a little bit cat eyed and little bit pink and they make me feel much cooler when I wear them.

Another favorite item is my Opinel No. 6 folding knife. It has a carbon steel blade that’s easy to keep sharp, but is generally small enough to fit in my pocket. It looks very vintage and very French and that sort of seals the deal on why I like it.

I also carry a simple Zippo brushed aluminum lighter. I almost never need it as I don’t smoke, but it doesn’t take much room and it makes me feel strangely prepared.

Do you see the T.A.R.D.I.S.?!
Do you see the T.A.R.D.I.S.?!

Finally, I have a small zip pouch that I look for excuses to pull out of my purse and rifle through the pillbox, lip balm and random paraphernalia I keep in it. It is made from a very subtle Doctor Who themed toile. I’m about as Whovian as it gets and each time I pull out my little bag in public I keep hoping another Doctor Who fan will spot it, our eyes will meet and we’ll acknowledge our shared secret with a nod and a look. It hasn’t happened yet.

 

 

 

 

Writing Prompt #3: French curse

Where in a dialogue prompt of “So, do you always swear in French?” becomes an excuse to be incredibly lewd in two languages.

“So, do you always swear in French,” I asked calmly.

“Va te faire foutre[1],” she spat without looking in my direction and took another long pull from her beer.

“I personally prefer Mandarin, but you’re doing the French a great service there. I can practically feel the baguette crumbs underfoot.”

“Ta Gueule![2]” she bellowed, now turned to face me.

“Gun HOE-tze bee DIO-se[3],” I snarled back, glad to finally have engaged her in my favorite game. She didn’t disappoint.

“Brûle en l’enfer![4]” she growled. We were fully engaged now. Our noses inches and our eyes burning holes in each other. A war of vulgar wit declared.

“It isn’t hot enough to burn me you shee niou[5] whore,” I shot back.

“I’m not surprised, you filthy fils de pute[6],” she replied, venom and derision dripping from every syllable.

“Shun-SHENG duh gao-WAHN![7]” I crowed unable to maintain the straight face. I doubled over laughing.

At my undoing she smiled broadly but with a smug curve to her filthy mouth.

“I was going to run out of material soon if you didn’t cave, but I didn’t,” she explained now purring with delight.

“No, you didn’t,” I agreed. “You got my text?”

“Get the kids at my mom’s house by 8…I know,” she answered over her shoulder as she went back into the house from the back patio where I’d found her when I got home from work.

“Hey honey, what’s for dinner?” I called after her following in her wake. I heard a French laced invective and the sound of a beer bottle slamming down on the counter. I smile.

“You are jing chai[8]! You know that, right” I ask her as I walk into the kitchen.

“Of course I do, you stupid salaud[9],” she answered, her eyes lighting back up with fire.

Round two.

 

[1] “Go fuck yourself”

[2] “Shut up”

[3] “Have a shit throwing contest with a monkey”

[4] Burn in hell!

[5] Cow sucking

[6] Son of a slut

[7] Holy testicle Tuesday

[8] Brilliant

[9] Bastard

Writing Prompt #2: A Thief’s Knife

A story from the point of a view of the knife in a thief’s pocket.

I am warm, but I always am, nestled as I am close to her body. I am the hard edge against soft skin, but in her case I abide. For now she is still. She’s waiting. My time will come, but not yet. We sit in darkness—at one with the shadows—and we watch.

She is normally absolutely still when she waits for her prey, but tonight her hand runs along my hilt ever so slightly, checking to be sure I am there. Her calloused fingers test my edge. I am sharp. I am ready, but she is nervous. What prey would cause my master such alarm? She is a master of the night, a denizen of shadow and the master of my blade. I am her razor edge and she is my body. When we act, we are one and our will is mighty. She should have nothing to fear.

An hour passes, but waiting is normal for us. She had spent the day checking all the angles of the building we watched. From our perch under the eaves of a building across the narrow street we could see the door to the tavern in front of us and the alleys and streets that lead away nearby.

The neighborhood was a finer one than we normally frequented, so her clothes were finer to suit. Her normal simple but darkly colored shirt and cloak were instead a midnight blue silk and velvet. I was tucked carefully out of sight in a supple black leather belt. Before the night was out blood red would be my decoration.

A man emerged from the tavern. He was tall and broad shouldered and wearing clothes that looked like a similar make to my master’s—dark and fine. When he began to walk away from us though his cloak billowed out and showed a scarlet silk lining. Surely he was no master of the shadow if he had chosen such a jolt of color for his costume. It would stand out in any crowd, be remarked upon and make a retreat into darkness and anonymity impossible. I wondered again at my master’s obvious nerves.

As the man moves away, so do we. She ghosts behind him and then with lithe grace—and a strength her small frame belies—scales a wall to take to the rooftops as we follow in his wake. He turns down an alley and I know my moment is close. She waits one heartbeat, watching as he keeps going at an even pace. She drops down from the roof around a corner and she drives forward silently. I am in her hand and we move like a wave surging toward the shore ready to crash on our unsuspecting victim. I sing out our silent battle cry as the air slides past my edge like silk. My keen blade, carefully matted to a dull grey to not catch the light, begins it’s sweeping arch that will slit a throat in a wild spray of arterial blood, but when my edge should bite into the man’s flesh there is nothing there but empty air.

In an instant he has her wrist and her arm is twisted painfully behind her back. I hear her sharp intake of breath as with a crushing grip he pulls until her hand goes slack and I am on the ground, no longer the extension of her deadly will. I watch, helpless as she writhes. His other arm has gone around her neck in a choke hold I’ve seen her use when she needs information and not blood, but the man asks no questions and makes no demands. She struggles and for a moment he just stands there, watching her try to get loose from his crippling hold. I scream my fury, but I am only the knife, with no body to guide me.

He lets his arm drop from the chokehold and she gasps for air. Then, with an almost casual indifference his draws his own blade and it’s edge does what mine has done so many times before. A spray of red and my master drops to the cobblestones next to me. Her sightless eyes don’t see the blood that pools beneath her and beneath me. It seems I wasn’t so wrong about crimson decorating my blade this night.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Writing Prompt #1: Starting a fire

Writing Prompt: Write about starting a fire. 

I aspire to a string and a stick, but my fire starting is a bit more pragmatic. When I am backpacking, carrying everything I’ll need for a few days to a week on my back, I let weight give way to ease of use. A few old toilet paper rolls stuffed with dryer lint are light enough, but take up more space in my pack than I’d like. Even if I forego the rolls, with a zippo lighter or a few matches and I can get a campfire going in a few minutes.

20140405114919-campfire-picThe real trick is in the preparation. When you arrive at your camp site for the night, be it a predetermined location or just when you happen upon a likely spot late enough in the day to warrant a halt, you settle into the soothing routine, the muscle memory, of making camp.

First, shelter. Strike the tent. Snapping together the poles and the clank of hollow aluminum tubes fitting together, the gentle rasp of siliconized nylon rubbing against itself and stretching taut and the grunt of effort as you drive tent stakes into the ground, sometimes soft, sometimes hard. A brief pause to admire your assembled tent and then a quick rush to inflate ground pads, roll out sleeping bags and all the things that are a little more complicated in the dark.

Next comes fire. While the spark that starts a flame seems all-important, the real secret of the campfire is in the gathering of the materials that it burns. In the wild, even our nearly civilized versions of it, the bits of wood you find are rarely just the right size. Sometimes they are cumbersomely heavy and you’ll eye the distance to your camp from where your choice log is resting and decide to move on. Inevitably you’ll circle back around to it after more fruitless searching and start hefting it back to camp.

But while those big burning logs seem like where you should focus, the real joy of a campfire preparation is in the gathering of the finer stuff. The act of gathering kindling is a detail job and a delight for my inner OCD. I gather each bit, by hand after careful searching. A conscious decision is made for every piece, a deliberation of the correct size of a twig, or the dryness of moss. When the ground is sparse, I set to whittling wood shavings from a stick until I have fuel for the infant stages of my fire.

But first, that fire baby needs a crib, and so I build it one. I gather rocks and make a ring. I arrange my well considered kindling and surround it with slightly larger twigs and sticks in a teepee shape showing it the way I want the flames to reach. When I have fussed enough, or the sun is sitting low in the sky, I give it the spark of life and coax it to grow. A tiny flame becomes a burning ember that glows hot. Flames grow larger, and the crackles sing out.

Now, with a fire going the cooking begins. Most often we modern wilderness seekers don’t even cook on our campfires anymore. We pull out small backpacking stoves and boil water and mix in powders and noodles, but the need for the fire is a primal thing and so we always have one. Tending it fills the early evening hours when it’s too dark to do much, and too early to sleep. You sit, in a circle, tending your fire, prodding and feeding your flames until the night sounds of the wild come out and so do the stories. For a few precious hours you don’t feel like a hiker or a backpacker decked out in high tech gear that wicks and waterproofs a great many of the discomforts of the backwoods away. Instead, you are a timeless adventurer surrounded by an endless night and limitless wilds, protected by the red yellow glow of a campfire. A flame you lit.

 

 

Goals Check: One Month In

Planning my passion
Write it down and it will be done!

In January I set out my list of goals to achieve this year and shared my personal mantra for the kind of effort I wanted to put forward and the kind of person I wanted to move towards being. Part of that plan of attack was to be accountable. I had to lay it out in a public forum as a way to prod myself into continued progress.  Not meeting my goals would result in personal frustration, but also some public embarrassment for not having done or accomplished what I said I would. I’ve been tracking my progress personally with an amazing tool called a Passion Planner. I write it all down, block my schedule and slowly but surely I’m getting on top of my goals. At just shy of one month in I thought I’d share some progress, complete with stats!

Goal One: Stay fit, get stronger and lose that last 10 pounds

I’ve made it to the gym for my Core Fit class an average of 3.5 times per week. I’ve consistently gone up in weights used and difficulty level for most exercises. I’m dreading the days we run a lot less! After a long hiatus from illness and the holidays it feels GREAT to start getting my swole back.

I have also managed to lose two pounds so far! I just have to keep laying off the cookies and that is HARD. The girl scout cookies I ordered are going to devastate my diet plans shortly.

Goal Two: Write daily

I am making steady progress here, but I’m not even close to my objectives right now. Over the course of the last four weeks I have averaged 3.25 journal entries per week, a paltry 0.5 blog posts per week (as evidenced by the thin content around here) and a dismal 1.25 writing prompt exercises. One of those writing prompts was a 1,700 word frenzy I wrote in about an hour from a prompt I found on Reddit’s writing prompt subgroup. It could even go somewhere as a short story.

Goal Three: Finish revising that NaNoWriMo novel and start the submission process

Absolutely zero progress here and that’s pretty shameful. I opened up Scrivener once and then proceeded to do nothing.

Goal Four: Learn how to do some basic leather working until I can make my own archery armguards

It's a coin purse I made!
A coin purse of dubious quality workmanship.

There is some progress to report here. First, my husband and I finished setting up a usable and organized workshop space. That gave me the space to plan out and then execute my first tiny project. After lots of youtube videos and some spending of birthday cash I had enough knowledge and supplies to make a leather coin purse! It is of dubious quality, but I made it! The leather scraps I used were too thin for the snaps and thread I had. The whole thing feels a little slap dash, but it was a start and the final product is usable.

Goal Five: Get to be a good and reliable shot with my recurve bow

My lady bow has sat largely unused with the exception of a trip to our friends’ hunting preserve/farm to faux bow hunt. That technically took place the weekend before my tracking began, so I can’t really claim it. I’d like to say that the cold winter weather has been forestalling me, but I generally like to be outside even when it is cold. No excuses, just lack of effort.

Goal Six: Go on more adventures

Nothing specific to report that has happened yet, but we have lots of adventuring planned for this year. We’ll do more backpacking over spring break and hit the trails hard over the summer. In July we get to venture up north to Minnesota for a wedding and we’ll probably sneak in some hiking while we are there.

So there it is folks, all the progress and all the failures to launch for this first month of 2016.

Get action

“Get action. Do things; be sane; don’t fritter away your time; create, act, take a place wherever you are and be somebody; get action.” -Theodore Roosevelt

I have some big goals for 2016. I intend to push myself past my comfort zone and find achievement and from there success in a broad range of areas. The only way is to keep moving, to keep doing and become more than I was when I started. So this year I set aside how silly it might feel at first and adopted a mantra.

Teddy Roosevelt was pretty much the definition of a doer. In fact, he tended to shoot himself in the foot with his own manic desire to do. Still, his life is an easy one to admire and, in a measured way, to find inspiration to be your own version of a doer. The real challenge for me has always been in finding the balance between doing and being. How do you keep the self-discipline it requires to keep advancing on your goals without losing sight of what you need to just be.  Contentment and ambition are ever at war in my life. In spite of worrying about balance, I’ve decided this bit of no holds barred advice from TR to one of his former Rough Riders is going to my mantra for 2016.

So, in order of importance here’s my goals and intentions for 2016:

  1. Stay fit, get stronger and lose that last 10 pounds
  2. Write daily
  3. Finish revising that NaNoWriMo novel and start the submission process
  4. Learn how to do some basic leatherworking until I can make my own archery armguards
  5. Get to be a good and reliable shot with my recurve bow
  6. Go on more adventures