Saturday, January 14, 2017

Hi! My Name is Kris - Part 4

When Wendy and I entered the Daisy House (Wendy said that was the name of the mansion) a cobweb's clammy touch stuck to my face and I just barely stifled a scream.

Wendy and I emerged in what looked like an ancient dining room. There was an inch of dust on the few furniture pieces and a beautiful chandelier hanging over the table. Upstairs was the same cobwebs and dust.

In one room I was looking through a desk full of yellowed papers and some feather ink pens, when I picked up a scrap of a letter with writing. "Wendy look what I found!" I exclaimed.

"What?" Wendy said. She came over and added "Read it."

It went like this:

Dear Cornelia,
This is it. My painting is not yet finished but my sickness is worse. The doctor said I will not live. My money goes to you. It is hidden in the (at that point water blurred the words) I am sitting at the window sill in my room while writing to you.
Your Loving Sister,

"Cool!" Wendy said. "It's like a will. Maybe we can find the money, I bet it's here."

"Let's finish exploring first." I said thoughtfully.

We moved up another floor. In one room it was bare with a single stool in the center. In another room there was a glass cabinet filled with tiny pewter animal figures. A ladder leaned on the far wall.

I was holding a (tiny) china cat when Wendy called out "Look at this Kris. Come here."

I went over. Above the ladder was a trapdoor. Wendy and I climbed up the ladder. There was a bed inside and one small window. In the corner was an old fashioned desk.

While we were searching the room I heard a low moaning. I turned around and there stood a transparent figure. A GHOST!


Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Hi! My Name is Kris - Part 3

"What, whhaat was that?" I asked. I was really scared.

"Oh just the wind" Wendy said with doubt and nervousness.

And it was quite clear she didn't mean it, I mean there was no wind anywhere and even though it was only nine o'clock (according to my watch) it was as dry as a bone.

"Okay. Let me tell you the story of this house." Wendy finally got out. "Then we'll go to my house to get a flashlight, so we can explore."

"OK." I said trying to calm down.

And she began.

"Once long ago this old house was a mansion." Wendy started. "There was an old woman who really wasn't old who lived here. She was friends with an old witch. One day she was found dead, nothing was wrong with her the doctors said. She was buried and that was that, though some people say the witch took her soul." Wendy finished.

"Now let's go get the flashlight." Wendy said and before I could answer, she ran in the direction of her house, and I could only follow.

At Wendy's house Mrs. Hollows greeted us. "Oh you must be one of Wendy's friends." Mrs. Hollows said "What's your name dear?"

"Kris Stevans" I answered politely.

"Nice to meet you" Wendy's Mom said, and started putting cookies in the oven.

In Wendy's room it was trashed. It was so messy this book would be filled with how it was messed up if I wrote about it.

Wendy weaved her way to her drawer, opened it, took out a sweatshirt, dropped it on the floor and pulled out her flashlight. She dropped the flashlight on her bed and opened the closet. And I swear I thought there would be an avalanche.

She pulled out a hard hat with a flashlight on it, like a miner's. "Which one" Wendy asked and held out both items.

Before I could answer a radio blasted out music. I jumped.

Wendy smiled "Just my 16 year old sister Jana, I'm used to it" Wendy explained.

I chose the flashlight and we left.

Outside Wendy and I started to talk. "So how come you moved here?" Wendy asked.

Oh no I thought, I was hoping she wouldn't ask that. "Well, my parents just got divorced and they both agreed to move. Dad lives in California. And Mom, Rob my brother, and I live here."

Wendy was quiet. We walked in silence. I watched two adults buy ice cream from the ice cream truck and I could feel tears well up in my eyes.

Wendy grabbed my hand and we ran all the way to that old house.

The door was still open when we got there. Wendy strapped on her hard hat and flicked on a switch, sending a beam barely seen on the sidewalk from her hat.

Once more she grabbed my hand and with that we entered the barely open door to the old house.


Thursday, January 5, 2017

Hi! My Name is Kris - Part 2

The next morning I could smell bacon. I quickly pulled on shorts, a Tee-shirt, my running shoes, tied my long brown hair in a pony tail and ran down the stairs two at a time. Rob was already sitting at the kitchen table when I got down there stuffing his face with bacon and pancakes.

I opened the refrigerator and poured myself some orange juice and sipped it while Mom served my breakfast.

"So you guys" Mom started "I was thinking we could drive out to the beach tomorrow if the weather is nice, this is summer you know. Kris what are you planning to do today? Rob heard about the Paul Bunyan statue in Bangor on T.V. this morning so I'm going to take him to see it."

"Well" I said. "I thought I might take Chopsticks for a walk around the neighborhood." (Chopsticks is my little white dog with brown ears and a black patch around his left eye. My best friend from New Jersey gave him to me when she visited Japan.)

Mom nodded, looked at the newspaper and started reading it.

I finished my breakfast and I rinsed my dish, cup and fastened Chopsticks' leash to his collar.

When I got outside I walked two blocks then I came to a house that was huge and looked very old. The paint was peeling and the whole thing was falling apart. It gave me the creeps.

"Scary, Huh?" a voice said.

I whirled around and there stood a girl with bug bites on her legs, tons of freckles and short (I mean short) red hair.

"Sorry, I didn't mean to scare you, my name is Wendy Hollows. What's yours?" The girl said with interest.

"Kris, Kris Stevans" I stammered.

"Nice dog, what's his name?" Wendy said.

"Thanks, it's Chopsticks" I returned.

And then while we were talking the door to that huge old house, which had been tightly shut, creaked open a few inches then stopped.


Thursday, December 29, 2016

Hi! My Name is Kris

I've been sifting through old school papers and writing. It's hard for us pack rats to decide to throw anything away. Typing my forgotten stories and setting them adrift on the Internet is an interesting way to revisit the past - and perhaps downsize the collection of papers while preserving the words.

I think I wrote the following story outside of school, for fun. I'm not sure how old I was, but the perforated holes on both sides of the computer paper that I used offer a clue. The only things I changed from the original, handwritten version is fixing any incorrect spelling and adding paragraph breaks.


"Would you kids stop complaining, we're almost there."

Hi! My name is Kris (short for Kristana). The person who was speaking was my Mom. She was talking to me and my younger brother Rob.

We were moving from our nice cozy house in New Jersey to Maine. We were moving because my Mom and Dad just got divorced, and they both agreed they would move out of our house. So here we were almost in Westbrook, Maine and my brother complaining every two seconds and me not feeling too happy about this at all.

Finally Mom carefully pulled up to a gray house with white shutters, and the tang of salty air hit us as we jumped out.

"Kris come help me unload this junk."

"Aw Mom..." I put in, I just wanted to get away.

"Kristana Stevans" my Mom said warningly, "Do you want me to get in the car and drive all the way back to New Jersey right now with you and your brother?"

(Mom thought I was thrilled about moving.) That would be great I thought. "Sure." I mumbled through gritted teeth.

"What was that young lady?" Mom said.

"Nothing" I said and started lugging a suitcase up the porch steps.

After we had unpacked (the movers got to our new house before us, and Mom had told them before where everything was to go) Mom showed Rob and I our rooms.

My room was big and airy. It was wallpapered with blue wallpaper that had tiny white flowers scattered over it. There was a nice window with curtains that matched the wallpaper and when you looked out you could see the ocean blue and greenish not far away.

After supper I climbed up the stairs and into my familiar bed. I began to think that since tomorrow was Saturday I could explore the neighborhood and maybe find a girl my age and before long I fell asleep.


Sunday, February 8, 2015

Character or Author?

"A little over a year later, in a grubby cafe not far from the Gare du Nord, with a plate of highly suspect celeriac before her and a very heavy backpack at her feet and a heart - not to put too fine a point on it - newly rent to howling shreds, Portia realized that she was pregnant."   - Admission, by Jean Hanff Korelitz

I struggled through this novel, trying to get on board with Portia. I wondered if my issue was with Portia or Korelitz's writing style.

The novel uses the third person. The narrative is tightly aligned with only Portia, and effectively
becomes first person. During occurrences of backstory, I assumed we were in Portia's mind. Remembering past events and emotions through her filter, rather than getting them directly from Korelitz.

But something hindered my interest. Portia came across as cold, too clever. A bit pretentious, self-absorbed.

Maybe we're not meant to like Portia. We spend a lot of time learning that in her adult life, Portia has never let anyone get too close to her. She's buried a significant life decision deep within her past, doing everything to avoid further examining or acknowledging that choice. Perhaps Korelitz specifically created Porita with the intent of keeping the reader at arm's length - the same way Portia has maintained a distance from her own self and other characters in the novel. This distance keeps Portia from transcending beyond a character to a seemingly"real" person.

The novel was turned into a movie,  starring 
Tina Fey as Portia.  I've never seen the movie,  
but knew it existed when I started the book. 
I kept picturing Tina Fey as Portia in my head. 
Since I never really warmed up to Portia, 
I felt like it started to influence my feelings
about Tina Fey, too!
Purposeful character construction aside, I wondered if Korelitz's narrative voice was too noticeable. In the sentence above, "not to put too fine a point on it" sticks out to me. Is this supposed to be Portia's observation, or is Korelitz speaking directly to the reader? Perhaps Korelitz chose these words for Portia, as part of her characterization. If so, could Portia be that objective about her own past, able to acknowledge - yet still lean into - her inclination for melodrama?

If Korelitz is speaking directly to the reader here - removing the filter of Portia's character - perhaps Korelitz is winking at the kind of person Portia represents. Maybe even poking fun at her own narrative decision, her own inclination to overly describe Portia's heart as being "newly rent to howling shreds."

Maybe this is Portia's voice, maybe it belongs only to Jean Hanff Korelitz. Regardless of the source, I was never fully swept up by this novel. Great care is taken to construct the novel and its plot, but I had a hard time finding a deeper connection within the architecture.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

English Class in Halloween

Do Laurie's smarts put her on a "course of action" 
for surviving Micheal Meyers? 
Is her survival an alternation or fulfillment of her destiny?
A classroom of restless, bored teens. Slouched and sprawled in their chairs, counting the moments until release. A girl in the back row - smart, serious, reliable - drifts into her own world. Distracted by recent, stranger-than-normal events.

In Halloween, Laurie Strode's English class provides the viewer insight into the movie's themes and hints at future events.

The classroom lecture focuses on a piece of work by Samuels. (Internet searches for a specific title or the author came up empty. It appears that both are fictional.) The teacher drones from the front of the room:

"You see, fate caught up with several lives here. No matter what course of action Rollins took, he was destined to his own fate, his own day of reckoning with himself. The idea is that destiny is a very real, concrete thing that every person has to deal with."

The film is built around the premise that, on this Halloween night, fate catches up with several lives:
  • Haddonfield. While not a person, the film's Haddonfield, Illinois setting has a fate of its own. A young Micheal Meyers murdered his sister in their Haddonfield home. The ensuing 15 years seemingly erased the bad taste from the town's collective mouth. Aside from kids taunting and teasing each other with the possibility that the now-abandoned Meyers house is haunted, the adults are largely absent. On Halloween, the adults seem to be out partying, trusting their children to the sleepy, unassuming town and teenage babysitters. Sheriff Brackett thinks that Dr. Loomis is off-base with his Meyers manhunt, since Haddonfield is a family town with "children all lined up in rows, up and down these streets." But thanks to Micheal - a product of this self-identified idyllic town - Haddonfield is fated to be a doomed town. A setting for his horrific acts.
  • Micheal Meyers. His fate is intertwined with the fate of Haddonfield. Halloween provides no outright motive for Micheal's actions. Perhaps the most telling detail is that Micheal kills his sister when he's six. If he could do such a thing, at such a young age, perhaps it is part of his DNA - his destiny? Dr. Loomis speaks of the pure and simple evil living behind Micheal's eyes - suggesting that evil has always been a part of Micheal, that he is fated to be a killer. Dr. Loomis also tells Sheriff Brackett that Micheal has been waiting for this night since being committed. Regardless of his doctors' actions and attempts to permanently remove Micheal from society, his return to Haddonfield was imminent.
  • Laurie Strode. Her character is the most closely aligned with the Rollins character discussed in her English class. Laurie is a brain, the "good girl." She accepts this as her fate, while still yearning for something more. She tells her friends that guys think she's too smart, calls herself "the old girl scout." But after she reveals her interest in Ben Tramer - and finds out the feeling is mutual - Laurie quickly back pedals, refusing to go on a date with him. You could argue that since she's not distracted by sex (unlike the friends who fall victim to Micheal), she's more alert. More sensitive to sensing that something is amiss.
The jack-o'-lantern in the movie's
opening credits suggests innocence -
the childhood delights of trick-or-treating.

The vacant eyes and face also mirror
Micheal's mask, and the idea that
he is empty of human emotions.
That there is only evil within.

The jack-o'lantern's face is marred by
a scar running from nose to mouth.
Perhaps signifying Laurie's loss of innocence
at the hands of Micheal.
Micheal Meyers is the "real, concrete" embodiment of evil. As Laurie physically fights Micheal - trying
to defeat him and save her life - she is reckoning with evil. The struggle could also be viewed as a "day of reckoning" with herself. She taps into hidden instincts. She uses violence to ward off violence.

Though Laurie claims that guys aren't interested in her because of her brain, her dating life seems to be equally stunted by her own reluctance. Perhaps her ability to fight off Micheal stems from repressed desires and energies hurdling to the surface in a life or death, fight or flight moment. Her reservations about the opposite sex are directly confronted with a man who justifies her fear. You could argue that she turns threatening phallic symbols (knitting needle, Micheal's own knife, clothes hanger) back on this dangerous man. Though ultimately saved by a man (Dr. Loomis), her fate is to use her brains - and perhaps bottled up emotions - to fight, to save the kids she's babysitting, and survive.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Attempting to Create Nature's Impression

While reading an issue of Old Port magazine, I came across a quote from artist Rick Dickinson:

"The joy and frustration that comes from attempting to create [the impression] that nature provides; the smash of light, the atmosphere of the season, all modified by the time of day and weather."

Now that we have a dog, I go on multiple walks every day. No matter the weather or time of year, the dog and I are out and about in the neighborhood. These 15-20 minute jaunts unfold at an easy pace, with lots of stops and starts to accommodate dog sniffing and marking. The walks provide a chance for noticing, a way of looking that's not possible when running or driving by.

Since we walk the loop of our street so often, I notice many small occurances in our neighboorhood scenery. The tangle of wild white roses, thickening the air with heady perfume. A tree in a corner of our yard, heavy with blossoms and countless buzzing bees, flowering after the other trees bloomed. The neighbor yard with three perfectly formed roses, cream-colored petals edged in hot pink. Snakes and frogs tempted by warmth and rain. Unable to return to safety, dead in the road.

air thick with rose perfume
drunk in my head
like bees digging into
a swollen petal
Here in the summer months - walking in flip flops, bare arms hot in the sun - the winter walks in
gloves, bulky jackets, and boots seem like an impossible memory. Nature has a funny way of falsely suspending us in time. Stretching single days out with leisure, while simultaneously rushing us into the future. The wild white roses have transformed into unassuming layers of leaves. Bees no longer flock to our corner tree. The neighbor roses dropped their petals.

The mind wanders on these walks, and one day it happened upon the idea of a chronological poem. It might be fun to write a poem over the course of a year, to chronicle the subtle details and shifts as nature morphs from one season to the next. I got a few lines down before my enthusiasm faded. Writing about nature can be frustrating on multiple levels. It's hard to find the words to accurately describe the way nature looks, smells, sounds.
Moving beyond face value, it's even harder to infuse the chosen words with deeper meaning.

How to describe when a certain tree or slant of light reminds you of the view from your childhood bedroom? The person you were at various stages, looking out. The world seeping through the open window on a subtle breeze.

Nature is a gateway description. Awe-inspiring in its own right, with the power to lead us below the surface. Nature is not only beautiful, but also useful for allegories, metaphor, symbolism, etc. The transcendentalists were on to something.

I think writers and other artistic folk are born observers, prone to noticing specific details. They are also compelled to honor what they notice - with a phrase, the click of a shutter, a brush stroke, a musical note. Does the artist ever feel that they successfully capture that which prompted them to create? As the saying goes, the journey is more important than the end result. It seems that Rick Dickinson agrees. His quote from above continues on as follows:

"The appeal is that the results may not fully meet the objective. The truth is that I hope the two never meet because then the learning may stop and the game may be over."