I haven’t been writing consistently for months like I always plan to. Throughout the constant bustle of things to be done, things that didn’t get done, the things I want do, I often think about all the writing time I’ve “lost,” all the poems that never happened. This makes me feel bad, like a bad writer or someone who doesn’t care about what they claim to be their truest passion, or hobby. I constantly worry that in the time in-between, my writing flow will be difficult to revisit, that I’ll be “rusty” once I come back to it, or I’ll just have trouble writing anything at all.
However, the last few years have served as great testament to something someone shared with me once before: When you experience your life fully and grow on a personal level, that will translate to the work. This has become truer over time, and I’m so thankful to have had Green Windows as the space to begin some of my most exciting work to-date.
Here is a poem I wrote in the February Uniquely Yours workshop. I hope you enjoy it.
by Steph Yun
I know the distinct ring of a wrench falling to concrete,
the exasperated sighs of a man whose calloused
blistered bruised hands
heal slower with age; they’re clenched in a fist
around a cigarette
15 hours away from here
I don’t know how to speak of the dead who hurt me
and my family.
do they visit me my humble bowl of water each night, too?
My father isn’t a man of faith or prayer but now
I know that all these years
he’s burned tobacco smoke in the urn of his lungs
in reverence of his own father, halabugi
a joyous man with a penchant for peanuts, soy sauce
and pepper paste
When my body decomposes
I hope to first become first rain
and the air on the dirt and
When I become flower,
I hope water tastes as good
as I’ve always remembered
and when I bloom
I hope creatures find my sight nourishing.
if they choose to consume me
may it be just as well
If I become water, may it be well
let the mouths who sip from me taste the brick and stillness
and cast their dreams somewhere uplifting
In no one’s name, I pray.
Green Windows gives me a forum in which to share personal experiences in a fictionalized way. It is not therapy, but it does give insight into feelings and motivations that can be expressed in powerful descriptions of life. Some of my best fiction and memoir has come from the opportunity to explore and reveal scenes to myself that lie just below the surface, untapped. I find this invaluable as a writer.
The piece below was written in the January Green Windows Uniquely Yours workshop. The prompt was Pain, specifically images of things that remind you of pain.
As is the magic of writing spontaneously from a prompt, you never know where your pen will lead you, if you let it. This is where it led me (unedited).
by Karen Gordon
Cutting. Cutting the skin, cutting off the blood. Cutting off the air. Blown to the ground, punched in the neck. Yes I saw stars. But the shock was the lack of breath. Then the shock of the violation, the violence. And the sense that I did something so extremely wrong as would cause this scenario.
Of course, I knew from the start that this was not a person that revered me, although he was all sweet words and smooth moves at the start. I imagined I had found a partner, a mate, dare I think a father of my child? But deep desires and fantasies die hard and I had to play this one out to the end. At the start, I believed in my own inadequacies, believed the lie that if I just lost 5 or 10 pounds that I would be desirable enough. That how he saw me was more accurate than how I saw myself. If I were stronger, more confident, I wouldn’t have followed him from place to place, wouldn’t have been more afraid of being alone than being emotionally and now physically abused. But I wasn’t strong then. And I was led by my lack.
Sometimes it’s best to be ignored, best to let things slide. It’s never been strong in my nature to “let it be.” I guess I need a sign of magnitude, to shout at me – STOP – let this one go. You don’t have to have the definitive straight-forward answer. And you can’t know what another person’s triggers are. Until you do.
I learned that night, that Xmas eve, about cornering a wild animal, one that looks calm on the outside but inside is so full of rage and angry remorse – that DANGER should flash from his eyes in red. And, of course, when I tried to make sense of it, to talk myself into a state of blame – I thought that gave me some control, some insight.
I was just wrong. I had to leave and never go back there.
(written November 11,2019)
In honor of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), I returned to the notebooks, dusty under my nightstand, filled with the work I’d done with Peggy. In the spirit of honoring my writing, my self, and my sanity, I walked my 19 -month-old son, who had not napped for the day, a mile to the library. When his chirpy banter slowed, paces from our destination, I exhaled as I lowered his stroller seat, both of us reaching equilibrium. I wheeled us into the library and returned to pieces I’d scrawled in Uniquely Yours.
Magic to return to this piece, written 8 years from the experience and now 2 years past that.
Another type of magic, Green Windows’ workshops are and aren’t about the process. I know she tugged something from me with her prompt, the trust in the room and the timer. I don’t know the prompt, and it doesn’t matter. Written likely in 10 minutes, my piece sits complete.
As I reread Athens, GA 2009, I inhabit the smaller clothes and forgotten shoes of the narrator. I poke open the door and wander about.
It’s about the process and it’s not. I’m using a timer for this meta exercise in which I’m writing about what I wrote in Uniquely Yours, but I sit alone. As the timer slows, I’m not shifting to the new energy when we share and appreciate one another in Uniquely Yours. I’m grateful for this piece I wrote, a capsule, and for now knowing this process/not process. I know a hint of that community will see me, honor me by taking in this blog post.
Athens, GA 2009
by Catherine Mencher
(written March 9, 2017 in a Uniquely Yours monthly workshop)
Head out the laundry room door, and there’s a trampoline from Craigslist.
Notice the two trailers on the back right. One of them might hold a family. There’s a plastic trike on the dirt in front. There’s a rag over the window. The other one houses a glasses-wearing white man who comes by to collect Tom’s cigarette butts. Put them in a New York Times newspaper bag for him.
On your left of the trampoline is a two-story house. A new dad. Talk to him about how the weather in Athens, GA has changed since he was a young kid. Remember to reject Southern stereotypes. Curve around the trampoline, notice my half-hearted DIY project: wine bottles buried in the dirt all cockananied and inconsistent.
Be impressed by the strawberries Vanessa planted.
Talk to the very old widow who lives in the teeny brick house next door as she hangs her thin house dresses out to dry. When she says her and her husband lived here when it was just a hill, remember. Remember the sprawling apartment complexes just a few doors down, remember the shady house with the guys who shared their coke and dressed you up just one road down, remember the public housing two stories tall just at the corner, and feel sad for her. Give her a hug.
So fun! Here's what we did:
We actually all wrote to the same prompt. We had several rounds and each time had volunteers read their writing to everyone, with the mic. The we switched partners. So we got to know different writers, too!
Here are some of the prompts:
- calculated perforated holes
- blue glow
- riveted soaking trousers
- overlooked misgivings
As always, we were struck each time by how differently each writer responded to the same prompt!
Stay tuned for more FLASH workshops!
Catherine Mencher, Administrative and Operations Consultant, has been writing in Green Windows workshops for years. She has recently begun using her admin and operations skills a few hours per week to help Green Windows through this period of transition and growth. She's immediately become indispensable. Thank you, Cat! We asked her to share a little about her relationship with Green Windows as well as the powerful piece she wrote in the June Uniquely Yours workshop.
Why do I support Green Windows: Art of Interchange?
I hope to provide the Green Windows: Art of Interchange community with a drop of what it has given me – deep connections to folks with whom the daily rhythms of my life would not otherwise come into unison, a reconnection to how I cast myself as a child (as a writer) and a model for how to comprehend the world. Spaces like Green Windows are elusive in our face-in-screen society. How we participants write in Green Windows reveals and validates how we live. Some follow prompts with extreme fidelity, some throw them aside. By accepting the diversity in writing approach that others take, we see and honor their uniqueness, and in turn our own innate uniqueness. Green Windows inspires an authentic day-to-day curiosity, a wondering what each person we come into contact with would say if given a pen and paper and brought to our circle.
In my new role, what will I do for Green Windows: Art of Interchange?
I hope to increase the chances that someone comes into contact with the various offerings of Green Windows. The social media world can be a scary one, but I want to ensure Green Windows has a presence that increases the connections and long-term viability for its important work. I want to push the wheels on the grinding details, like data-keeping and grant-satisfying, so that Peggy can move the integral product, authentic connection and community-building, forward.
by Catherine Mencher
I didn’t like the aftermath. Jaw like sandpaper had scratched the bones and bases of the teeth. Memory of the lack of control, the learning that one tab of one finely hewed chemical could drop my inhibitions so totally.
I didn’t like looking back at standing jittery in the line at Walgreens buying bottles of lotion. I kept that knock off lotion for almost a decade. Finally throwing it away before I finished it. One bottle of aloe still haunts my toiletry drawer. Knowing how thin our line of control is.
I didn’t like what the chemicals in my mind had gotten me into the night before.
I do love hearing you in the morning. I so never want it to end. As I sit today I want to keep making babies so I can always hear MOM in the morning. I’m grateful I don’t have a six am shift. How easy it would be for our disconnect to build if I couldn’t hold you every morning, couldn’t be in a privileged group who know what you look like when you fall back to sleep: the adorably adult way you reach your arms up to yawn, trying to push yourself back under that cloak of sleep when the light’s teasing the outside.
I learned that I love strawberry cake when Jacob and Newton married. At some point the cake splat onto the grill at the wedding park. Erich, I love that you and a couple named Elizabeth and Maegan ate grill cake together and that we bonded about it in the bathroom line later.
I don’t like the word usurp. It seems like a word describing something that I tend to support happening, but it has a sneaky, gnarly feel to it, like something done the less ingenuous way.
I don’t like a lot of things anymore. I don’t like what it feels like when a baby throws rice all over the floor, which sticks flatly to your feet, requiring a peel off. I don’t like that caring for my child has made me bad at modeling austerity. How do I keep him hungry enough so he doesn’t waste food is not a question I ask myself much.
I do like the concept of personal change. I’m frustrated by the litmus test put on people in power. Why are they held accountable to not changing? Isn’t changing what makes a human?
Bertrell is a talented writer, painter, musician and filmmaker. We asked him how he chooses what medium he works in when he feels a creative urge.
Drawings, doodles, paintings posted get hearts and likes from a handful of true trusty pals then the crickets swarm gets swinging with their usual number. Paper receipts, napkins and envelopes all add to the clutter on top of my empty Dj casket/desk/coffee table. Clutter becomes organized trash. I curse at my forgotten unwashed paint brushes with their dried paints. Latex gloves both used and new lay around the place. Some inside out with oil paint sticks and pastels nearby. They provide a sense of frenzy to the quarters. Cool repurposed panels and canvas find a tired wall to lean on or hang on. An up-to-par verse to a rap song gets stored in old and new cell phone notes app. I bet it must get cold in there while waiting for a chance at getting recorded. My composition notebooks stack up next to older cell phones arranged near or around music gear or related items. Yesterday's video clips got dragged and dropped into named files. Ha, I laugh to myself because I realize there is little hope of a video editor having their way with them puppies. I try to organize them tho, just in case someone comes thru on the pro bono tip or I find a budget to work with.
I don’t clean up too much from any of these acts mind you. At times I feel like I lose intelligence with all this creating things. Yet I remain a happy hoarder of my own works for the most part. I Imagine I might gain better discipline and increase my coin collection if I was focused on marketing my artistic talents more so than creating them. This artist isn’t formally trained in any of the mediums that bully me into working with them. I just sorta keep things moving around me when I can. My only true job is to stay happy. This is how I think I choose what medium to work in when I’m creating, in short. Oh I’m artist in case I went over your head with my rambling.
Okay, for starters paid commissions have never, I repeat have never, come my way so the task of what to do artistically doesn’t have a bottom line of what pays the bills. It’s become a completely cathartic ritual of twiddling thumbs. A few weeks ago I got asked by a friend to write this piece for a monthly blog. So a Blog Post it is, Peggy! And now I am writing, but wait, please note, I seldom lift a creative muscle in my body from an outside request, much like a good DJ. It’s usually an internal self-driven process and is not so cut and dry as this. I’m mostly fueled by my personal study of light and sound on my journey into film making. Note I’ve always had a tough time finding steady work in film production so music production and visual arts have been my down-time besties. Okay, back to the process of medium selection. It sorta goes like this on a good day, well approximately: Mee nee my nee Mo. Laughing out loud. No, it’s not that simple but it’s not too far off.
A'ight, often I’m in between doing something that relates to a paying gig. Be it handyman help out with a property manager buddy to some carpentry or residential painting with a contractor pal. Add in helping a family member with something or other and I’m set.
All of the aforementioned activities may or may not happen before I can get a good blank stare in at Rachel on MSNBC or Wolf on CNN. Then out of nowhere the Medium Muse Dealer hits me up. This is how our conversation goes most of the time:
Medium Muse Dealer:
What’s up with it?
Oh nothing much. What chu got up? What you smoking on?
Medium Muse Dealer:
Oh I’m busy, you know me, I keep it turned up .
The better question, my man, is what you got up? You working?
Man, I’m always working. It’s a lifestyle. A movement.
It’s what I am. I’m Work. You already know this. I wish you’d cut to the chase.
Medium Muse Dealer:
You funny as shit, yo, I dunno. I heard you had some slapping beats wasting away in that laptop you keep in yo backpack. I think we need to get to mixing them bitches down.
Me Slapping Beats? In my backpack?
Mixing down? I’m not sure what you're talking about.
Medium Muse Dealer:
You got too many jokes.
Man, those bitches don’t love anymore. They just pretending.
Medium Muse Dealer:
Stop it Dude... you're tripping. Put those Sony’s on and talk to your music part for a hour or two. You owe it to the world, bruh. Come on. If not two hours maybe a half hour, a good 45 minutes or sumthin. Come on kid, stop fronting.
Naw, I’m cool. I got way too many channels to surf right now.
Plus I got some lightweight depressing thoughts to muddle in. Maybe next week. Besides the crib is a mess.
Medium Muse Dealer:
I know what you mean. Well, fuck it then. Go on and take a picture of that canvas panel piece by the bathroom and post it. Gotta keep checking your phone for those ten likes, yo. Lol.
Haaaaa. A'ight a'ight only for a couple hours, tho.
Several hours later after I have swapped out bass lines, added drum fills, guitar variations, panned DJ scratches and cuts, and added reverb and echos to songs that by this point I’m literally sick of listening to. Then I stop to see that the piece of art I thought was all that has gotten three likes. Unmoved I send a text to Thugette, call Moms and try to get some sleep.
I awake and the process repeats with a different variation of actions. I get called and hustled by my Medium Muse Dealer about what creative endeavor they deem more urgent and I bargain my time down on the act and give in. Be it painting a picture, developing a story for a screenplay, or logging the points for edits on video footage.
The Medium Muse Dealer basically owns me. Peggy, please send help
Here is a peek into Montez Price's Career Change Album
that Bertrell is producing:
When I was a teenager, I was very ambitious. I was convinced that the stories coalescing in my head were so vivid and important that I would make a great working writer, sell enough copies to support myself, maybe have my works taught in English classes, and follow in three of my relatives’ footsteps. What I didn’t fully understand, however, is that being a working writer requires a day job—or in my case two—especially if you’re publishing books by yourself. The major traditional publishing companies were, and sadly still are, the gatekeepers of literature, and generally wary of investing too heavily in unproven writers, which is why I was so determined to do it myself.
In college, I intended to collect my rejection letters to remind myself not to give up. Unfortunately, some time after my sixth rejection, I had a serious health emergency, then life caught up with me, and I misplaced my collection. But at least I never stopped reading, or watching movies, or listening to music, and finding things in life that inspired me, because those experiences help maintain the vibrancy of my stories, and even to help ground them in reality, to make more sense of them. Even generative writing programs like Green Windows have been invaluable. As Kurt Vonnegut Jr. once wrote, “The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable.”
Nobody can really tell you how to write (no matter how much they might want to), because the creative process is an extension of your unique, individual thoughts, feelings and ideal method of expression. When we write, that process is the crystallization of concepts that we wish to transmit, however raw they might be at first. Editing is the process of cutting, refining and burnishing those ideas like gemstones. When we read, watch or experience other things, we are mining … looking for the things that resonate with our own experience.
In summation, we need to look for the things that inspire us, and we will know that they’ve inspired us when, all of a sudden, in spite of whatever obstacles that external forces throw in our way, our world-views and the stories connected to them begin to make sense again.
Below is a piece from a previous Green Windows workshop. Enjoy!
“THE HEARTSCAPE FACTS” THREADS ON WWW.MAPPINGTHEHEARTSCAPE.COM, DATED 07/29/2011
by Rachel Golden
It has long been believed that Atlas Galt, the keytarist for Heartscape, was named after the Greco-Roman god who supposedly held up the Earth on his shoulders. Whoever first started that bull-crap was clearly an Objectivist twat, because any fourth-grade textbook will tell you that Atlas was the Greco-Roman god who held up the SKY on his shoulders, which was no doubt an easier job because the sky is way lighter!
PantherHands: OMG LOL!
RocketSauce: FUCK OBJECTIVISM UP ITS FAT WRINKLY ASS!!!!!
Diogenes: LOL nice one, Rocket!
RighteousPath: Damn, that got political pretty fucking quick.
BigNo: Not even the internet is totally free of politics, sadly. Up north, we have a contemptuous asshat named Stephen Harper to thank for that. Part of me is tempted to go scale Mount Everest for that very reason.
Howitzer: Fuck Stephen Harper!
LunarRover: Wait a goddamn minute… I think I know the smart-ass piece of shit who wrote this post in the first place.
BigNo: Do you, now?
LunarRover: I’d accuse Biggie, but that’d be too easy, and frankly he’s not one with an affinity for Greco-Roman gods. Diogenes the dog, I accuse you! Do you hear me? J’accuse!
Diogenes: Ruh-roh! Guilty as charged.
LunarRover: More like “guilty as fuck”!
VMyson: Bad dog. No biscuit. LOL.
Howitzer: Holy shit, I love this fucking forum so much!
LunarRover: And the forum loves you, too, Howie.
SidPernicious: I don’t love Howie, gaymo.
VMyson: That’s because you’re an asshole, Sid.
Howitzer: LOL TRUE DAT!
SidPernicious: I’d rather be an asshole than a gaymo, like you gaymos!
Diogenes: Aw, sorry to hear you’re not comfortable with your sexuality, Sid. You might want to get in touch with someone at PFLAG, and maybe get some shit off of your chest.
SidPernicious: Why the fuck would I do that, when I have you chodes to get into bitch-fights with?
BigNo: I think what my associate meant is that you should do yourself a favor and “get some santorum off your chest,” Sid, because I’m pretty sure I can smell it from here.
RocketSauce: Yeah, Sid, it’s not our fault you’re so deep in the closet, you’re finding Christmas presents!
RighteousPath: Embrace your queerness, Sid! We believe in you!
VMyson: OMG I’M DYING!
SidPernicious: FUCK YOU PUSSIES!
SidPernicious has logged out.
VMyson: LOL what a dumb-ass!
Howitzer: Some motherfuckers just don’t have the introspection to be able to laugh at themselves.
LunarRover: Wait a sec, do kids these days still say “gaymo” when they want to insult people on the internet? Seriously?
Diogenes: I know, right? It’s so last decade…
BigNo: Kids are so unfashionable.
I’ve been writing with Green Windows for about 4 years now. I met two of the regular attendees at a coloring club meetup. I was feeling brave enough that day to venture out of my normal routine to do something like that, and holy hell am I glad I did. My first night there I heard writing like I’ve never heard before. Not like the crap they made me read in school, not the forced-to-sound-like-this writing from my creative writing class in college, not what I always thought poetry “should” sound like. I heard real, raw, authentic voices from real, raw, authentic people. We were writing at Chapter 510 then, and being in a space that could hold the creative energy for youth helped me work through some shit. It also inspired me to start a group at the elementary school where I worked using the same method that we use at Green Windows after reading Pat Schneider's book about the AWA method. Listen to some writing by an inspired 10-year-old sometime. It changed my world.
This group of people has become more than just a creative outlet for me. It’s where I sort out all the things inside and around me and find a way to feel all the feelings and have other people witness me doing it. It’s become a group of fellow soul travelers, friends, mentors, and family. I honestly cannot imagine my life without it.
When Peggy offered to take me on as her apprentice, I was beyond honored. I told her that no matter how busy my life can get, I’m learning how to make time for the things, the spaces, and the people that feed my life. What would be my life be without them anyway? Green Windows and the community of people that are part of it fit all those categories. As a therapist and someone who’s participated in and facilitated healing spaces for years, I can confidently say there’s something really special going on at Rock Paper Scissors every 4th Sunday of the month.
Writing a blog post means I’m sharing my work, too. I thought about adding a fun poem, one that invokes a laugh or at least a chuckle. Maybe one of my short pieces about my mom’s tomatoes or my brothers’ paper towel karate belts or how my dog looks at me when she pees or the time I met a human bunny rabbit on the Lost Coast. But the bravery of folks to speak truth inspires me everyday to speak mine more, and lately I’ve been encountering too much of that bravery to keep crawling back into my cave where it all feels easy and protected. I shied away from true tales of horror inflicted on women and children for many years, because it reminded me too much of mine. Maybe that’s where you, reader, need to be right now, and so I’ll give the disclaimer that this is not a fun piece. It’s a part of a journey, the part where it’s all super thick forest with no map, no machete, no rope. Hopefully, hearing a piece of my story will give you strength to write yours.
(more about Lena)
men teach me to like rape
by Lena Nicodemus
ferns & nitrous ice fog on the cold sand
a fallen tree trunk
lifting up on hips & lifting up of t-shirt
a stupid fucking visor hat
and when you look at me you look nervous
but I don’t say no
your hands are cold up my shirt & you
push your tongue too much into mine
but I don’t say no
you stick your hand down my pants
root around for whatever loose change
you’re looking for
and I remember we’re at where people who
go off trails can find us,
not far from the shit food of the national parks lodge
and I still don’t say no
later I say no and I laugh but I’m not sure I’m joking
and you hardly stop to check
I’ve been taught for my whole life to say
yes yes yes
I don’t imagine myself saying no or
why I would
the stories I hear from the couch are
always the same
men getting robbed at gunpoint and women getting raped
and then there are the stories where it’s little boys and girls
and the guns are your cousins
and I guess both guns could be your cousins
and I used to be scared of the word
and have to spell it out when asking friends
if movies had
I could watch them and
I don’t watch anything other than
the office it feels like anymore
because getting surprised by a rape scene in a movie
I thought was rated PG-13
and really 13-year-olds can watch this?
it’ll knock me out and before long
i’m scared to go out or even ride my bike anymore because
all the hey baby’s and looks feel like rape
because when i feel triggered it’s like
I’m being raped
but since I was young,
men teach me to like rape
men teach me to call nonconsensual sex “kinks”
and “it got a little rough”
and stopping to ask me once for a safe word neither of us use isn’t consent
and anyway girls can’t consent to sex only women can
and you didn’t invite a woman back to this apartment, did you?
I heard about Green Windows on an aimless walk through downtown Oakland at dusk one Spring. I remember the sky was pink and I was climbing my way up from rock bottom and pure Hell. I think I was only a few months sober. Back then, Green Windows was hosted at the original Rock Paper Scissors Collective art workshop on Telegraph Ave. I opened my mouth for what seemed like the first time since I was a kid and spoke about what was really important to me. We sat on unassuming chairs in a paint-splattered room and people listened to me. I never did AA or any kind of structured help program. Green Windows was it for me. Every month I would join a friendly assortment of colorful people, I would write, I would share and I would listen. In this way, I built myself up from broken, devastated pieces into a positive member of a tangible community for the first time in my life.
In Green Windows, you always have the option to pass on sharing a piece of writing. I have never done this. I have written pieces of writing that scared me into shaking, pale-skinned jello in these workshops. Sharing them in a safe, confidential space with warm, loving people who all share their stories in turn has brought me healing that feels divine. Again, you don’t have to share if you don’t want to, and plenty of people choose not to, but I have made serious progress emotionally and spiritually just by saying what I need to say, even if I’m terrified.
After a while of coming to these workshops, you start to see the same people. You admire their writing and then get to admire them as people. None of us are big-shot prestigious writers (at least not yet). Almost everyone is available to talk or share a ride home or a slice of pizza after the workshop. The community of people I’ve met coming to Green Windows over the years is what keeps me rooted in the Bay Area. It brings me pride in my home and I feel like I’m releasing stagnant energy and rejuvenating by writing, reading and listening.
As long as I live in the Bay Area, I’m going to keep coming to Green Windows workshops. This community has played no small part in making me the person I am today. Peggy, her helpers, and all of us do a lot of work to keep the space open to truly anyone who wants to come through these doors and write. The participants in these workshops feel like a cross-section of Oakland and the greater Bay Area and I haven’t seen this diversity in one space anywhere else. Green Windows writers have the privilege of coming to awareness of what life is like for people different from us. This work is important for keeping myself humble and keeping myself engaged in the struggle for justice and in building community. Here, I have the space to dig into myself and find veins of painful, traumatized gold to bring into the light and inspire others. I am grateful to live in a time and place where this is possible.
Below is a piece of fiction I wrote in a Green Windows workshop. I hope you enjoy it.
Different Kitchens, Different Friends
by Alec West
The refrigerator makes a sound that most people don’t hear. My friend Charles grew up on a boat and said that when he had to live in a house he hated the refrigerator. It was so loud, it kept him up at night. He wasn’t used to it.
My friend J used to come over and raid my fridge. He showed me how to cook tortillas on the stovetop. Years later, he admitted that he’d had a gun on him in our house. Old friends were trying to kill him, and he had to protect himself.
My friend Basil also used my kitchen. He is dead now. I remember him standing in my kitchen, having a conversation with my Mom about yogurt-coated granola bars.
“These are actually sweeping the nation as one of the best new things!” he said. His wide eyes were shifty and unfocused, his blond, box-springed hair was like a brillo pad under a wool cap or a hoodie. We went on that afternoon to get drunk in an alleyway with fresh green grass growing. It was springtime, and we were enjoying being young and the bold, deep flavor of loneliness when you have someone to share it with. Then Basil bought a bottle of vodka from a homeless man with my money, and we blacked out in the bathroom of a drug store.
This kitchen, on Lake in Piedmont, by Beach Elementary, was the first place I discovered alcohol. I remember coming home in a nice button-down shirt from the freshman dance and finding the liquor cabinet open.
Vodka and Gin. I filled up two plastic water bottles full, one red and one blue. My friend Red covered the stairs at the Morcom Rose garden with orange, green, white, and yellow puddles from the paints in his stomach. They were inkblots spilled over a page. Somebody was holding their pen up too long thinking about what to write and splotches ran through. Back then there was less loneliness than hope and excitement. I felt like I could still be part of something here if I tried. Red was my first drinking buddy.
Years later, I find myself in my brother Gabre’s kitchen in Eugene, Oregon. He has liquor bottles displayed above the cabinets where he keeps plates and dishes. He was a teetotaller all through high school, and now that he is in college, he is drinking. He felt that he had earned the privilege with his success. My friends and I taught him all about top shelf bourbon and scotch. Now he is a connoisseur and a snob, and at six pm on a weeknight he is shaking the cocktail mixer, fixing a drink.
My friend Hombre’s Dad’s kitchen looks out over the whole of San Francisco. You can see the city shimmering with light and heat and fog and silver and gold during the day and shining with purple and orange at night. It was the perfect place to enjoy a blunt with some close friends. My friend Hombre had sixteen pot plants growing on that back deck in high school. At first, his Dad didn’t notice, then he didn’t care.
Tall, fragrant bushes, sticky flowers and phosphorescent leaves. Orange hairs, white hairs, purple hairs. Acid and mushrooms and looking at the clouds. Hardcore music. Drum and bass music. Dubstep. A State of Trance.
We found a vast, dark basement full of all flavors of people who did drugs in San Francisco, from hardened criminals to kids like us. Hombre wanted to wear sweat pants and a Nine Inch Nails T-shirt. We told him to go for it, but he didn’t do it. We were too young for ecstasy, we felt, so we took trucker speed, those pills you buy over the counter at the gas station for like five bucks. That and a lot of marijuana, and we didn’t sit down for six hours.
All this is what I remember of my childhood in the East Bay. What were we gonna do? We were making the best out of a teenage situation in suburban California. No, you’re too young to get into the club, but there’s this alleyway and this bag and this homeless guy who agrees to buy you alcohol. I’m not joking when I say that homeless guy became my best friend. His name was J, he was only a few years older than me, and he taught me a lot.
Alec West is a Bay Area native and has been writing and publishing since he was twelve, when a fierce middle-school teacher taught him that he was worth something. He has been published in Slingshot Magazine, The Anthology of Poetry By Young Americans, The Moon, and The Highlander. His first book, “What Happened When I Stopped Watching TV” will be available in print and e-book in December 2018. Follow Alec on Instagram.
A friend told me about Green Windows. I had been in writing classes before but not done writing to prompts. I loved it. I like not knowing what will happen--either what kind of prompts we will get or what my pen will do when it gets one. Mostly it pours out some familiar story from my life but sometimes, and I am grateful for those times, the prompt sets me off on something I would never have thought to write. Even when I write a story I’ve told before, there may be a new insight or I will like the way a group of words sit together.
I’ve been in other prompt-writing groups since, but Green Windows stands out for the variety of writers and writing in it: people of many races and classes and several genders, immigrants and native-born, drop-outs and people with post-graduate degrees. It’s in Oakland, it’s sliding scale, and Peggy so completely welcomes everybody to bring their whole selves in.
I’ve met such good people at Green Windows, and heard such amazing writing, poignant, playful, profound. I met Renee Garcia at Green Windows, and joined her on-line prompt-writing group. Late one night, one October thirty-first, Renee challenged us to start writing a novel at the stroke of midnight, the moment when National Novel Writing Month would start. I wrote for twenty or thirty minutes about why I couldn’t write a novel. The next morning I started writing a novel--a fantasy for older children--which I am still rewriting over three years later. I love working on it.
Peggy encourages us to write either as ourselves or as a character, and I sometimes respond to prompts as some character in the novel. This has either given me material I can use in the novel or insights into my characters that will inform my further writing about them. One prompt was to write about a familiar or habitual walk. So I had a character, Margaret, talk about hers, and it’s in the manuscript now, and here, below:
Excerpt of novel-in-progress
by Nancy Schimmel:
On the evening before landfall in England, Annika said, “I’ve never been in a castle, much less lived in one.”
“The trick is not to stay in the castle much if you can help it,” said Margaret. “You leave the castle early in the morning before somebody thinks up something for you to do. First you go down—down the path to the beach and along the beach to the trail, then up the face of the heugh, back and forth like lacing on a bodice, to the grassy top where the sheep are. Or where they are supposed to be if they haven’t done something stupid like one wander over the edge and another one go to see what happened to the first one and go over the edge but not on purpose and therefore badly, and you may have to stop and do something about it.
“If all is well with the sheep, you go through the meadow. By and by you will come to a hut with smoke coming out of the chimney. However early you have left, Tom will be up and dressed and making tea before you get there. Bring him some honey, he likes that. Sit with him and sip the hot strong sweet tea and listen. Tom will tell you a story about himself and the sheep or his brother and the sea or his grandfather and the Norse raiders. He tells true stories, or truly as he heard them, but he doesn’t dither about exactly what happened or who was there or what day of the week it was, he keeps the story going.”
“I know what you mean,” said Annika. “We had one of those ditherers in the village.”
“Janet’s father is like that,” Margaret replied. “Maybe that’s why Janet likes ballads. No room to argue with yourself about what happened. Anyway, then you tell Tom your story, like you told it to me. I tell him stories I read in a book or heard from the cook or from some traveler.”
“But now you are the traveler,” said Annika.
“That is so,” said Margaret. “I’m a princess, but I’m a traveler, too. I used to hear travelers say things that either made me want to jump on the next ship leaving or be glad I stayed home where there’s hot tea and honey every morning.”
“Are you sorry you are a traveler?” asked Annika.
“Not at all. But I will be glad to get home again.”
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