Exquisite Project, Track 2 is LIVE!

To reiterate from my previous post for those of you who start here:

From 2012 to 2018, I participated in an annual prograqm called The Exquisite Project, hosted by the Bill Library in Ledyard, CT and organized by the brilliant and talented Andrea Hoshaw Buka. For those of you unfamiliar with it, the idea is based off the Victorian parlor game “Exquisite Corpse” in which one person draws part of a body on a piece of paper, folds the paper so the next person can’t see what they’ve drawn, and then the next person continues, doing the same until the last person is finished and the paper is unfolded to reveal the composite creature. (Think “The Telephone Game,” where one person whispers into the ear of another, and that person relays what’s been said to a third person and so on, until the end, where the last person reveals what they think has been said and it’s compared to the original statement.)

The project was a lot of fun and wonderfully creative, with Andrea providing the initial prompt to the first person in line, then alternating writers and artists in each track with the subsequent creators not knowing the prompt and only the piece that directly preceded theirs. We all were deeply saddened when she informed us that EP would not continue past 2018 due to budget constraints imposed by outside forces. (The library is located in a town where some of the people in power would dearly love to close it down. Can you imagine?!)

Fast forward to 2020 and the onset of Covid and all the other things we’ve endured. As I’ve addressed elsewhere, I found myself unable to write during much of the past two years, and was almost physically ill at the thought my ability might have deserted me. In an effort to be creative in some small way, I asked for, and received, Andrea’s blessing to exhume EP and try it on my own. I sent out invitations for five writers and five artists to volunteer, in order to form two tracks. Track 1 would run Artist/Writer/Artist/Writer/Artist, and Track 2 the opposite. Both would be initially generated by a prompt supplied by me to the first person in line, and unknown thereafter to all the others. I’m happy to say that those who signed up were deeply enthusiastic and gave it their all. And now we’re ready to reveal!

Track Two Prompt

Photo by Xavier Von Erlach

#1

Woodland Recital Disturbed

He reminds me of a centaur I once knew
but in profile—so I can’t be certain

Head a thatched cottage filled with rhymes
plashing about like fish in a stygian bowl

With perfect performance posture he sits before
a splintered upright littered with curling leaves.

I’d like to find a three quarter portrait of Bowie
torn from a fashion mag—paste it atop the bare torso

But any movement of my own might disturb
the brittle leaves as they dance across the keyboard

A ghost mantis leading with mahogany legs
taps along the spear of sunlight piercing the copse.

I peer between two leafless boughs
and wonder—how is it I’m not seen

The centaur is too intent upon his song
nor does he take notice of a sudden gust

Gathering its skirts and lifting the spent leaves
high above him to create a spiraling crown.

But the clever mantis saves itself.

Digs its claws into the centaur’s shoulder.

Turns its pyramidal head to look at me.

#2

#3

It must have been a dream, but how could it have been? A thousand years of
memories, my people, the wars and triumphs, the famine – the great
coalescence. Yet here I am. As I try to wipe away the dream with the sleep in
my eyes, I cannot shake it. How could I dream for a thousand years? How
could I wake from a lifetime? How can I return to the dream?

I grab fleece and recall the feel of linens in the palatsi, soft, like clouds.
The blanket, coarse, jagged, rakes across my breast. Nothing feels smooth.
Nothing feels real. My foot reaches the floor and recoils. When did it get so
cold? Where is the comfort of grass and sand? I know I am here, but,
somehow, I don’t feel I am here. I still feel the warmth of the suns and gentle
breezes of the hinterland.

“Siunaus talle paivalle, olkoon kaikki elava.” I whisper.

I don’t even know what that means. It’s slipping away from me. I’ve made it
as far as the door, and I want to walk backward and crawl into bed. A song,
one from this world, reminds me, “…Once you wake up, you just can’t fall back
to sleep anymore.” And I push forward.

Somewhere inside the motions, muscle memory tells me I have always been
here. The coffee gets made, brush teeth, run water for bath. When my toe
breaks the surface tension of the water, I feel I could slip back into
Kalandria. There is it again. What is the other that I feel? Bath, water,
gestational fluid, welcomes me back home.

I slip beneath the surface, the embrace of Aiti. Ayatee? Mother? I feel the
words. I recall the oath. “Maailmat Yhtena.” “Maialmat Ushtena.”

Worlds as One.

I rise from the waters gasping for breath. I was there. I know I was. We were
all there. Ding. What? Coffee. Coffee is done. Standing, I feel the waters, the
memories, drip from my naked soul. Towel is rough. Air is cold. Where am I?

And why do I still bear the mark of the Druidi?

#4

#5

The only time she got relief from the masks and shields and gowns and gloves, from
the phone calls with fraught loved ones (both her own and her patients’), and from the
struggles of the dying was in her dreams. There
the clock ran backward, and strange glyphs danced on its face that were almost, but not quite,
familiar. Every night her exhausted brain
took her to a mirror world where all the terrible events of the day
reversed themselves before her eyes – patients sat up and smiled, coworkers
removed their masks and laughed with each other. Her father
walked from the cemetery to her childhood home and puttered in his garden.
She felt the fear ebb and hope flow in, a counter-tide to her days.
After a twelve-hour shift, she raced home through the empty streets, stopping only
to get take-out, which she devoured after showering. Feeding her body in anticipation of slumber
and the door.
In her dreams she stood before a door, able to make out
a yin-yang carved into its surface on both sides. On this side
the lighter yang was more prominent. She knew on the reverse that the yin prevailed,
warning of the darkness. It was the boundary
between dark and light, stress and relief, pain and joy.
Every day she woke to the same – masks and shields and gloves and gowns, patients
dying no matter what she did to help them. The fear and exhaustion
filled her as if she were drowning. And then, inevitably, one day she awoke
on a gurney – her coworkers rushing her to the triage area – fever and low oxygen, breaths
that were hard to pull in, and fatigue that permeated every atom of her body. Closing
her eyes, she thought of the door and the strange clock that ran backward. Then
she was stepping across the threshold. She soon found herself walking
up the front steps of her father’s house and hearing him call out “Hey kiddo, are you hungry?”. Joy
flooded her heart until it burst from her chest, like in the religious paintings of Mary. Her emotions
took tangible form, becoming objects she could touch.
After a time that felt both long and short, she made her way back to the door and turned
the knob. It was locked.

The Participants

Once more, inexpressible gratitude to the artists and writers who gave their time and talent to this project. In order of appearance:

Shifra Shaman Sky has this to say about her piece: “What immediately struck me was the mannequin’s resemblance to a young, shaggy-haired David Bowie.” Shifra’s first chapbook, Touching the Nooksack, was published in October 2021 by Finishing Line Press. You can learn more about it here: https://www.finishinglinepress.com/product/touching-the-nooksack-by-shifra-shaman-sky/

Theresa Dupont is a versatile artist whose endeavors include sea glass/driftwood boats, small stone Christmas trees, and portraits of her dog, Princess Bubba. She really knows her way around a kitchen (as I have good reason to know), and should really have her own bakery.

Ryan Twomey-Allaire, aka His Lordship, is a jack of all trades who can turn his hand to any craft or repair job and have it come out (occasionally with some swearing) better than it was before. He enjoys cooking, but won’t touch dessert. In addition to a full time job or three, he’s helped run a small press, Bookateer Publishing, along with his beloved main squeeze M.J. Allaire (from Track 1). He lives in the back of beyond where he’s renovating an old house when he isn’t doing one of a million other tasks and cursing the chiggers.

Robert Farace is, by his own admission, “never entirely happy” with the art he produces. Those of us who have followed his work for years beg to differ. In addition to being an accomplished sculptor and musician, he’s a talented handyman and mechanic, restoring life to an old house or a reluctant engine. In his day job, he’s a “word mechanic, but others break them faster than I can fix them.” He’s also one of the world’s nicer people. He plays bass guitar as a member of Post Traumatic Jazz Disorder, along with his partner Lorain Ohio Simister. See them here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCN7E-gOQ3muY3VWyRWAOMyA

Andrea Hoshaw Buka is the instigator behind the original Exquisite Project. She’s talented at more things than is fair to the rest of humanity including sewing, cooking, participation in Society for Creative Anachronism, makers’ workshops, library cataloger (including Chair of the Consortiums Catalogers Committee), history buff, re-enactor, and let’s not forget full-time wife, mother, grandmother, and friend. Drey doesn’t know the meaning of the word “no” and will always help in a pinch.

Exquisite Project, Track 1 is LIVE!

From 2012 to 2018, I participated in an annual prograqm called The Exquisite Project, hosted by the Bill Library in Ledyard, CT and organized by the brilliant and talented Andrea Hoshaw Buka. For those of you unfamiliar with it, the idea is based off the Victorian parlor game “Exquisite Corpse” in which one person draws part of a body on a piece of paper, folds the paper so the next person can’t see what they’ve drawn, and then the next person continues, doing the same until the last person is finished and the paper is unfolded to reveal the composite creature. (Think “The Telephone Game,” where one person whispers into the ear of another, and that person relays what’s been said to a third person and so on, until the end, where the last person reveals what they think has been said and it’s compared to the original statement.)

The project was a lot of fun and wonderfully creative, with Andrea providing the initial prompt to the first person in line, then alternating writers and artists in each track with the subsequent creators not knowing the prompt and only the piece that directly preceded theirs. We all were deeply saddened when she informed us that EP would not continue past 2018 due to budget constraints imposed by outside forces. (The library is located in a town where some of the people in power would dearly love to close it down. Can you imagine?!)

Fast forward to 2020 and the onset of Covid and all the other things we’ve endured. As I’ve addressed elsewhere, I found myself unable to write during much of the past two years, and was almost physically ill at the thought my ability might have deserted me. In an effort to be creative in some small way, I asked for, and received, Andrea’s blessing to exhume EP and try it on my own. I sent out invitations for five writers and five artists to volunteer, in order to form two tracks. Track 1 would run Artist/Writer/Artist/Writer/Artist, and Track 2 the opposite. Both would be initially generated by a prompt supplied by me to the first person in line, and unknown thereafter to all the others. I’m happy to say that those who signed up were deeply enthusiastic and gave it their all. And now we’re ready to reveal!

Track One Prompt

For the Track One Prompt I chose part of a quote from writer Arthur C. Clarke:

“Behind every man now alive stand thirty ghosts…”

And here is how the track played out:

#1

#2

Reckoning

In a chrysalis of our own making
We’re waiting to develop wings
While this moment’s for the taking
And we don’t know what tomorrow brings

Yet we exist in humble silence
Lest we dare to raise a voice
And the world is marked for violence
As if it (n)ever had a choice

Will today be the day that we emerge
From the buffer of our contentment
Or will these apathies converge
On a point of shared resentment

Chorus A:
Our fellow man is beckoning
About time we joined the reckoning

It’s all for one and one for all
Learn when to stand and when to fall
Open your eyes, let in the light
Arm yourselves, prepare to fight

Bring your conscience, bring your reason
Bring your condemnation of this treason
Bring your goodness, bring your virtue
Brandish these, they can’t hurt you

In a cocoon of our own devising
We’re immune to the call of duty
While the temperature outside keeps rising
And hot spots threaten to obscure beauty

Yet we hesitate to disturb the peace
Lest we shock the reverie of complacence
And humanity is held under lock and key
As if we confused paralysis with patience

Will today be the day that we break out
From the comfort of our disillusion
Or will truth be seen in shades of doubt
Despite reality’s intrusion

Chorus B:
Our fellow man is beckoning
About time we joined the reckoning

It’s one for all and all for one
Learn what to do, not what’s been done
Let in the light, open your eyes
Clarity comes when darkness dies

Bring your wisdom, bring your kindness
Bring your aversion to this blindness
Bring your love, bring your compassion
These are weapons without ration

Bridge:
Why bloody up the battlefield
When we can walk on common ground
There’s infinite room behind this shield
Under which we’re honor-bound

(Repeat Chorus A & B)

#3

“River of Blood”

#4

“The Cycle”

She had grown weary of the cycle.  Its existence was immutable, though the circumstances changed constantly.  There had been slews of clichés throughout the centuries which touched on its essence, but her favorite was the one about not learning from history and being doomed to repeat it.  Humankind never did learn, and as such, was doomed to repeat the cycle, until they were finally no more. 

The blissful periods of peace and prosperity sometimes lasted for decades.  New life was created, new lives were forged, sometimes directly from the ashes of war.  They sprouted, basked, and grew in the kind, gentle warmth of the sun, flowered, and brought forth even more life.

Those same rays of benevolence, however, had a hidden insidious effect.  It also slowly faded the horrors of war from the collective consciousness, memories waning in the flow of time.  Tales told by ever-aging survivors passed from hearing, echoes lost in the distance.  Humankind forgets, but time does not. 

Why had The First allowed them to get to this point, ensnared in this endless coda of tragedy?  One of the many ‘mysteries of the First’, she supposed, though that too was cliché.  It was largely an experiment, a release of control, which seemed to ‘amuse’ the First.  Or, more likely than an amusement, a test of Their omniscience.  They saw the inevitable, held out hope that Their creation would overcome itself and reach Them, knowing they would not. 

The foundation for this tragic tale was laid when they were provided self-determination.  Folly, the First had to have known, but They were eternally optimistic.  When They designed life in this particular system, this ‘universe’, as the self-important humans named it, They hoped the spark of creation would imbue a sense of the Design.  It did, in some, but only in large part, not in the whole.  Hope was constantly reborn in every new soul drawn forth from the Well, but rarely survived childhood. 

She surveyed her charges, now coming out of the horrors of War.  The fabric of their souls was torn asunder by it; no, more frayed, damaged, rather than destroyed.  With the impending peace and prosperity, however, the damage would be repaired, wounds healed with the scars of time.  New life, new Hope would spring forth from the reminder War provided, as to what was good and important in the world.  Children would be born, grow, and demand a change, a revocation of the cycle.   They would, however, in time fail to heed the lessons, and return once more to the path of destruction. 

There were many more worlds, many more experiments with which she could be tasked to oversee when this one finally ended.  She found Hope within herself that one of them would prove wise enough to learn, wise enough to escape the cycle of the Well and the World, and return home.  Then the First could move forward.

#5

“I’ve Heard There’s an Island Where the Trees Grow Upside-Down”

The Participants

I can’t begin to express my gratitude to these, my friends, for their willingness to play and (for a time) set aside the world’s craziness. I so appreciate each of them sharing their talent with the world. Here, in order of appearance, I’m happy for you to meet:

A.E. Marlowe says of his piece “Clarke’s quote (and the lines that follow the fragment) speaks to me of the expectations and debts owed to the dead. Behind my figure are figures representing ghosts, scattered amongst them is detritus and the shattered remains of their failed goals symbolized by the broken lightbulbs. The main, haphazard figure is walking on a path of glass tile and reaching toward yet another goal. That goal is likewise imperfect, but holds a bit of promise (in the form of the small key). The ghosts influence the situation with their observation. They cannot speak, hear, or listen, but they can perceive somehow. They are there, watching the living as they try and interact with a new goal. Will the living succeed or will this be another shattered bulb scattered on the path forward? The larger figure knows it is being watched. It knows it owes a debt to the dead.” You can see more of Marlowe’s work at http://3houses.art

John B. Valeri is a book critic, author, and host of the well-regarded web series Central Booking. He’s written for CrimeReads, Crimespree Magazine, Criminal Element, Mystery Scene Magazine, The New York Journal of Books, The Strand Magazine, and Suspense Magazine. His popular online column, “Hartford Books Examiner,” ran from 2009 to 2016 and was praised by author James Patterson as “a haven for finding great new books.” You can explore more of John’s work, and watch past episodes of Central Booking at http://johnbvaleri.com

M.J. Allaire is best known as the author of middle-grade fantasy and mystery, including the celebrated Denicalis Dragon Chronicles series. She is the recipient of a Mom’s Choice award for her novella Into Thin Air. She lives in the middle of nowhere with her husband, Ryan, several semi-feral cats, and three rambunctious dogs. You can learn more about her at https://www.mjallaire.com/

Scott Buka is a Renaissance man of the first stripe, a punster, a lover of good food, drink, and music, utterly devoted to his family, and one of the nicer people on the planet. (And he’s fortunate enough to be married to Andrea Hoshaw Buka.)

Lorain Ohio Simister has this to say about her piece “This is created from found art supplies. My favorite piece is the tiny brown piece of pottery. I found it on a lawn chair and fell in love. Through researching, I discovered it is the nest of a potter wasp; harmless, non-aggressive, mosquito eater (I think aphids, too). And the pot is perfect. Hope to find another one some day.” In addition to being an accomplished artist, Lorain is a professional singer and culinary wizard. She lives with her best-beloved, artist Robert Farace, another of the world’s nicer people, and together they make up one-third of the band Post Traumatic Jazz Disorder. http://thewingagency.com/artists/PTJD/

“Nothing to be Afraid Of” is LIVE!

The London Reader UFO issue with my story “Nothing to be Afraid Of” is now available. To paraphrase The London Reader itself, this volume delves into that part of our imagination that ignites when we see strange lights in the sky, or pause to think of the conspiracies behind them.

You can access the collection at the links below. There’ll also be a stand-alone book issued next year.

Print or eBook edition: http://www.patreon.com/LondonReader

Kindle Edition in the United States: http://www.amzn.to/2gDSdG6

Kindle Edition in the UK: http://www.amzn.to/2fvO7Th

As always, thank you from my heart to all those who support my work, and the work of others.

Three Weekends of Writers

We’re a (very) short three weeks and four days from the beginning of Loganberry Books’ Author Alley gatherings. For three Saturdays in a row, the good people at Loganberry Books will bring together up to 30 area authors to talk about their work. Each event runs from 12pm to 4pm.

August 6 – BIPOC authors

August 13 – fiction

August 20 (that’s me) – non-fiction and illustrated lit.

Find out more on the Loganberry Books website (http://www.loganberrybooks.com/).

If you’re local (and even if you aren’t), I hope you’ll make a point to come out for one of those days to support Northeast Ohio authors and Loganberry Books.

Coming Soon to an Ohio Near You

Please pass the word along to your reader friends near and far. We’re bound to have a fun time talking about elephants, not to mention all the other stuff that crops up. Hope you’ll join us in September at the Thompson Branch of Geuga Library! https://geaugalibrary.libcal.com/event/9221398

Writer Beware

If you’re a writer and not following Writer Beware, you should. These are fine people doing great work and all writers owe them thanks and support.

Cindy

There isn’t a lot known about Cindy the elephant. Born in Thailand, she was exported to the US at a young age (likely too young to be away from her mother), bought by this person and that, and eventually wound up at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium in Tacoma, WA.

Somewhere along the way, Cindy developed a foul personality. She could be sweet and compliant with those rare keepers with whom she developed a relationship, but with everyone else, she was fractious. Roger Henneous once described her as “the most dangerous elephant in America.” She may have been born with this inclination due to birth trauma, or it may have become cemented into her personality over time based upon how she was treated.

In any case, she eventually wound up at Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium in Tacoma, WA. In an effort to work with her in a way that would keep both Cindy and her keepers safe–what is now known as Protected Contact–PDZA renovated their elephant enclosure. During that time, Cindy went to live in California at the San Diego Animal Park. Later, when they could no longer handle her and PDZA’s facility was not yet finished, she lived at the Washington Park Zoo (now the Oregon Zoo) in Portland.

Fast forward to 2022:

Encouraged by my book ELEPHANT SPEAK, my friend John Houck (former Deputy Director at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium) is penning a memoir of his life as a zoo worker (keeper, curator, deputy director). I’m lucky enough to be one of his beta readers, and his manuscript is an extremely honest look at life behind the scenes among the animals.

Recently, he sent me a couple of chapters about elephants (my beloved Hanako once lived at PDZA). Among the footnotes was this link. Lest anyone believe that elephants are merely docile “big gray dogs” (as one keeper ironically said to me), they can also be dangerous. This video of Cindy on the rampage was caught by an onlooker. WARNING to those who are easily upset: This is chilling in the extreme. (You’ll have to paste this into your browser, as I couldn’t get it to cooperate.)

youtube.com/watch?v=HYlbnd-A7-Y&t=15s

More Wonderful News

IMG_3222

And the hits keep coming.

I just received word that ELEPHANT SPEAK (and I) have been chosen by the good folks at Loganberry Books in Shaker Heights, OH (http://www.loganberrybooks.com/) to participate in one of their three Author Alley gatherings in August.

August 6 highlights BIPOC authors. August 13 showcases fiction. And August 20 offers up non-fiction (that’s me) and illustrated lit. Each day runs 12pm to 4 pm and offers up to 30 different authors.

If you’re local (and even if you aren’t), I hope you’ll make a point to come out for one of those days to support Northeast Ohio authors and Loganberry Books.

Wonderful News!

After more than two years of feeling fallow, I’m beyond delighted to share the news that my short story “Nothing to be Afraid Of” has been accepted by The London Reader, http://londonreader.uk/. Publishing Date TBD, but I’ll certainly keep you posted.

I am incredibly blessed, and deeply grateful.

Latest Book Recommendation

Jennifer McMahon does it again with “The Children on the Hill.” I could not put this down – and it has more twists, turns, and flips than a roller coaster. A terrific read!