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Sunday, May 25, 2014

Trigger Happy

6,500 languages in the world. I only know one.

It's the language I learned. In kindergarten, it was Dick and Jane and their dog Spot. In grade school, please and thank you. By high school: shit, ass, fuck. (Full disclosure: that was middle school.)

Joko Beck had a story about rowing a boat on a foggy day when another boat smashes into your stern. You're furious with the careless dipshit that just scratched your paint job, but you discover the boat is empty.

Where does the anger go?

The boat didn't cause the anger. It was the thoughts about the dipshit driving it. The boat simply triggered our unconscious beliefs about ourselves and life. In some teachings, the boat is a Buddha graciously showing us where we're stuck.

It is not the anger.

This past week, my Buddha has been Bobby.

Bobby is a lap dog I'm babysitting. At his house, Bobby has the life. In the morning, his owner prepares him cantaloupe. At night, it's a scrambled egg. He gets three walks a day and has run of the house.

Bobby's not cool with our house. Bobby doesn't like wet grass. He wants to pee on the deck. I carry him into the yard to pee-pee. But Bobby's smart. When it's time for pee-pee, he runs away. When I get him, I stand in the yard with a handful of doggy snacks singing, "Pee-pee, now. Pee-pee, now" and watch him sprint for the door.

Trigger, meet anger.

I'm angry because he won't do what I want, like stop pissing on the deck and come when I call. Those are my thoughts, my beliefs...that he should do what I want when I tell him. And they're irrational. I know this because I have friends that work wonders with horses and dogs. They understand a language that animals understand. I'm floundering in Dog Speak 101.

Recently, I began reading Non-Violent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg and discovered a whole new language. Over the last 16 years as a college teacher, I've come to realize how my words affect others. What I say and how I say it can trigger reactions. When there are 30 students, there are a lot triggers.

Choosing my words and actions carefully can prevent unnecessary reactions, bridge impasses, and can stimulate growth. Just as importantly, it can shine the light on my own triggers and what lies beneath my actions. What is the true nature of experience? Where does the anger go?

Here in a minute, I'll let Bobby outside. He will graciously show me my belief systems.

Pee-pee, now.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

What I Wasn't

Flash fiction: a story told in a few words.

By some accounts, the shortest story ever told was by Hemingway:

"For sale: baby shoes, never worn."

Six words is all it took. Six. I never get tired of rehashing all the possibilities, all the heartache and complexities that come along with selling baby shoes, never worn, via a Want Ad.

Recently, I submitted a story to a science fiction website, 365 Tomorrows. I had 600 words to tell a story. They ran it. It goes like this.

It started with a flash.
Like the Big Bang, an explosion that swallowed everything. The pain sunk deep into my head, and then was replaced with blurry colors. There were no edges to the blobs floating before a background of gray. The pinks and the browns and the silvers and the blues shifted in silence that was so deep and perfect, like floating in a pristine ocean.
And then the silence was gone, obliterated by the sounds of a tapping keyboard and a young man talking. His name was Ben. He just broke up with his girlfriend, said he was ready to spread his wings. You know, fly a little.
“What’s wrong with her left eye?” Madeline asked. 
She was the one making the keyboard rattle. A colorful blob merged into my line of sight and then—SNICK—my left eyelid slid up. More colors.
“Hand me the drops,” Ben said.
The drops were cold and slippery. They burned my eyes. I blinked the world into focus. Ben’s hair hung over his ears and he hadn’t shaved in days. His eyes were green, like the green of new growth. The white collar of his lab coat was pulled up.
He flashed a bright light in my left eye. “How’s that?” he asked. “Can you see me?”
He spoke like I was deaf or old. I was neither.
“Give me something. Sing a song, belch…something.”
“Stop badgering her,” Madeline said. “She’s not ready to talk.”
An argument ensued. I was left staring at a gray ceiling with an attached rail that encircled us with a heavy plastic curtain. I realized, not until that moment, that I couldn’t move. My body was like wet metal shavings, the table hard and cold. Madeline made the keyboard dance while Ben fiddled with a tray of medical tools.
That’s when the memories came.
I remembered Christmas and my dog and the time Simon brought flowers to work and sang and I blushed. I remembered all the little good things and the little bad things, how they hurt and how they pleased. That’s when I smiled.
“There,” Madeline said. “Give her the mirror.”
Ben stuck something in my hand. He lifted my naked arm, wrapping his hand around my dead fingers. I saw my red hair spread over my shoulders. My skin was fair and my eyes were green, like emeralds.
“Heather.” I watched my lips move. That was my name.
Madeline kept tapping the keyboard. Ben danced around the table and rubbed my hands and legs. The feeling came back with pins and needles. The sensations came in dense waves, as if my body had fallen asleep. Ben massaged my arms and shoulders and feet. I sank into the incoming tide of memories to escape the discomfort, each one a jewel that reminded me who I was.  
There was sledding and the time I learned to drive and a funeral and my first kiss. I remembered my life.
Ben was rushing to the other side when he slipped. Falling, he grabbed the curtain. The metal rings pinged as the plastic ripped away. We weren’t in a small room, not like I thought. I let my head roll to the side. I saw more tables like the one beneath me. On them were nude women with red hair spilled over their shoulders and fair skin. Their eyes were closed, but I knew they were green.
“Damn it, Ben.” The keyboard clattered at high speed.

And those sweet, sweet memories went away.