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As she walked purposefully toward the hill crest the leaves didn’t crunch underfoot, they whispered. Still their message was clear.

Respect the passage of time.

Diana didn’t need the reminder though. Everywhere she looked the delicate balance of life and death was being played out for all to see. Healthy feed corn on withered stalks. Vibrant colored trees dropping leaves like rainclouds. Even the air seemed to spin with wild abandon from sunlight warmed to bonfire perfumed icy breath.

She like the manic feel of Fall. The frenzy of soaking up every last dappled drop of light before night overtook day. The rush of completing each autumnal event on the list. Apple picking, check. Pumpkin carving, check. Cider mulling, double check. Each outdoor activity fighting off the not so secret fear of a pending winter. To Diana euphoria tempered with melancholia was the ideal mindset for this moody season.

From August through November she had watched the world change before her very eyes with each storm or frosty morning. Finally, perched at last upon her vantage point the whole of Diana’s small town was laid out before her. It was quaint, her town, filled with a bright history, like so many others, but it’s future was shadowy at best. For a moment it seemed to Diana that she could see both past and future in that panorama. For a second the frenzy gave way to clarity.

Seasons change, tides turn, and time marches on.

In the face of such certainty Diana felt easy for the first time in months. We are all in this together she thought, looking longingly over her shoulder jealously wanting to hold on to her moment of peace, during dark winter nights and balmy summer days… only time would tell which way the balance was falling.

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Pumpkin Spiced Lycanthropy

Jasper was every bit an “average Joe”. He loved his small-town roots, his perfectly worn in steal-toe boots, and his permanently coffee stained 42 ouncer plastic mug representing the one and only gas station before the junction. He had watched with mild fascination as the old community office just across the street had been transformed into a den of over-priced coffee, never feeling the pull of the iconic green and white cup sporting his name in someone else’s handwriting, but today was different. Today, Jasper was more than curious. Today, Jasper was in need.

The Gas’N’Go had failed him. Faulty wiring in the hot plate, where the decaf usually sat, had shorted the whole thing leaving nothing behind but an OUT OF SERVICE sign and a whiff of overheated metal coils. So now Jasper stood just within the doors of what he affectionately referred to as the Coffee Cult when making fun of his “on-trend” friends. It was a lot to take in. His first thought was that commercialization was alive and well. Quickly followed by a rapid fire 20 questions game with his sensory response to the environment. What is that sound? Was it a bag pipe? What is that smell? Carmel? Vanilla? It was like stumbling into a new age rock concert held on a scented candle. Even his eyes had to adjust to the low jewel toned mood lighting.

Two minutes later and Jasper was at the “I’ll be damned” stage. He had read the handwritten menu three times and could not find the word coffee anywhere. He was sure one of the items must be a simple coffee, but since fancy to him had meant a flavored creamer, things like Amerciano held no coffee-based meaning to him. By the time he made it to the woman at the register he had formulated a plan.

“Mornin’ I’ll have the least expensive coffee you serve.”

It had made sense to him a small black coffee was enough to get him to work and while it wouldn’t last all day, like the 42 ounces would have, it was better than nothing. Also, a plain coffee should be the least expensive thing on the menu and ordering this way would require no fancy jargon.

“That’s the best order I have heard all day!” The lady with an ear full of metal exclaimed flashing a smile that was pure manic glee. “You are in for a fun ride love,” she said her mouth drawing thin, “Name?”

“Uh, Jasper.” He was sure he had made a misstep, black coffee wouldn’t have gotten that response, but it seemed he was too far in for a graceful retreat.

“Tall PSL for,” direct eye contact then a wink, “for Uh Jasper”.

He walked to the PICK UP sign and scanned the hand drawn posters trying to decipher what he had ordered. He didn’t have to look very hard the center board was dominated by the words Special: Pumpkin Spice Latte. “What the…”

“Uhjazpeer!”

He almost missed his own name. “Hey, I just wanted coffee,” he offered to the man with an orange side swept Mohawk.

“That is coffee.” Came the response as the man hurried off to the next item on his list.

“Damn it.”

Jasper grabbed his “coffee” and headed over to the fixin’s counter. He tried the drink, eyes squinted, to assess how best to handle the PSL. An intense combination of kitchen spices lingered with a nice warmth in the back of his throat triggering an immediate need for another taste. Lid forgotten he walked over the nearest booth and sat. Savoring the aroma and smooth frothiness he alternated between gulps and sips till he hit foam. It was gone. Jasper sat still for a moment. Shocked. Confused. Unsatisfied.

He stood quickly, not sure if he would run for the door or the counter, then it hit him. His eyes went dim and a roar of electric sound tore at his sanity. His scalp and face recoiled from the sensation of a million fire ants angrily making their way from one side to the other. His chest felt tight and his extremities squeezed. Stumbling forward Jasper made it to the bathroom before he collapsed.

Blinking his eyes, he first noticed that the music in the bathroom was much nicer than what they had been playing in the shop. The tightness had disappeared, so he chanced walking to the sink. In the mirror he could barely recognize himself. His clothes looked at least two sizes too small, the burning sensation on the right side of his scalp had left him with an exaggerated asymmetrical part, and his face which still itched and stung had sprouted a full beard. The door opened pulling a tendril of cinnamon scented air towards Jasper. His spine stiffened, all concerns forgotten except for the insatiable need for his next pumpkin spice latte.

The woman behind the counter was still smiling the manic grin. “What’ll it be?”

Image result for pumpkin spice latte hipster

A moment of peace

The day’s rain could still be heard in the leaves of the trees, softly rustling in the gentle breeze, and plodding off the broken drain pipe onto the slate slab walkway below. The sky, however, had been washed clean. The stars sparkled and the moon’s illumination fell softly upon the night. While the easy rise and fall of the nighttime thrum sang of rest and eternity.

It represented a moment of peace, and in that moment everything was beautiful.

Big little decisions

Something unexpected and amazing has happened, and I had to share it. I am currently working as a postdoctoral fellow, but my project is nearing a natural expansion point. So, the decision I was faced with was A) follow the project or B) pass the baton.

I have chosen to pass the baton.

Please do not misunderstand me, the passion and ownership I feel for this project has not waned, it is just time to face another challenge. My decision to move out of my research headspace and into a job hunting headspace, turns out, was actually a series of smaller decisions. These big little choices held a weight which I did not full comprehend at first.

My first big little decision…”I do not have to finish this project.”

As a scientist I know that there is no such thing as a “finished” project, there are always more questions, but I have never been very good at leaving a story half written. Projects I have worked on in the past all resulted in publications. Proof, in my mind, that at least my part of the story was complete. This time the attachment I felt toward the work was different. I no longer felt the need to have top billing when this manuscript goes to press. I just wanted the work to actually become translational, to continue, and grow.

My second big little decision…”I get to ascribe the success in my career.”

I am very much a people pleaser, and though I’m not proud to admit it… I like praise. This means that I often hang on others conception of my achievements, and am therefore held back by others belief that I am not worthy/capable. It was only by giving myself permission to be proud of my work and my progress without external reinforcement that I could start to see my worth. I’m sure this sounds a bit like ego mania, but that’s not my intent. I mean simply, that by finding myself worthy I could now justify looking at my next step. I no longer had to wait for permission to take the next step in my career.

My third big little decision… “I can choose what my focus is.”

I tend to be very goal driven, and in academics the goals are for the most part predetermined. For me this basically amounted to; take GRE, get accepted to PhD program, pass my qualification, write 3+ first author manuscripts, defend, obtain PostDoc, publish in top tier journal, obtain tenure track position. I was on a treadmill. No need to look around, or even up, because I was on “the path”. However, in the last year I started to look around. I started dabbling in science communication and outreach. I joined the committee of a nonProfit. I even started looking at jobs outside of academia. *gasp* This gave me the renewed perspective to ask myself what it was that I wanted most/least out of an academic career. My responses surprised me.

What I had not realized was that in slowly letting go of my academic dream I was becoming more honest with myself. I had finally allowed myself to admit that sidestepping the grant cycle and working without tenure were not failures, they were choices. That I could have all the positives of an academic career (mentoring opportunity, creative license, and a diverse list of collaborations) without the negatives (grant writing nonstop, ego politics, and the lack of appreciation). Could I love my mission statement and feel valued without an R01 at a top 10 university? I had to know the answer. So… I interviewed for a job that would have never been on my radar before. It’s too early to know if this will be my dream job, but by consciously pursuing these new opportunities I feel more certain that it’s within my reach.

As seen on Pixabay

Up thoughts

Alice in Wonderland all rights to Disney


She stood on tiptoe her nose barely reaching over the edge of the table. The treats were so tempting sitting in their cut crystal bowl screaming “eat me”, but still she wavered. Some small animalistic lobe of the brain alerting her to the danger of too perfect an opportunity. Quickly she glanced side to side, sure she was about to be found out for the uninvited interloper she was, but no one looked or noticed. Quick as a flash tiny hand took tiny treat. The jolt of adrenaline added to the flavor making the sugar complex and wonderful. Wildly she enjoyed the stolen morsel, and having eaten her treasure sank to the floor… deflated. No one had noticed or cared. Emptiness filled her stomach and inch by inch swollowed her, mind and all. Everything now felt sharp and disjointed as if it had become over large or ungainly. She sat with her new feelings and confused by them began searching for explanation. She had gotten what she wanted, right? 

Yes, it had been exquisite in both anticipation and reality. So why did she now feel even smaller? 

The thoughts made her want to wipe her hands off, as if this mindset could be cleared away so easily. 

Maybe, no. Perhaps the real want had not yet been met. 

Immediately her searching switched to scanning. The treats were little, the pleasure they brought had been little, and the motive tiny. She would need something much bigger to make the smallness go away. Ruby and amber flashes winked at her from smoky glass decanters daring her to “drink me”. This, she thought, was no little thing this was big. The big action of a big person who people would notice. Decided she went for the decanter thinking only up thoughts. The flush of success, so newly acquired, slipped away as the liquid passed parted lips. It seared and burned on the way down pulling her after. 

Up it seemed was still out of reach.

I itch between my shoulder blades, the unreachable itch of watchful eyes cast my way. I don’t dare turn to look as the pointless gesture only makes me look guilty, of something… of anything worth watching. Instead I slowly roll my shoulders and stretch my back, even pull a yawn. It is better to appear bored, or better yet tired, tired people aren’t a threat. It’s hard to mobilize when you are beat down by life and lack of sleep. The gaze slips from me to the truely tired business man slumped against the hand rail beside me. He startles noticibly before faining indifference. I keep my smile small and smother the laugh threatening to bubble out, nothing attracts unwanted attention like laughter at tense moments. The urge completely abates with the soft gasp and hushed rustle of fabric that means someone is being “helped” off the train for questioning. 

A heavy silence follows those sounds; filled with dred and inactivity. I cannot blame them the fear we are all mainlining these days, compliments of our government for our own good I’m sure, is a potent drug. 

I check my watch, like I always do, stand and walk towards the back of the train, per usual, shift my bag to the center of my back, in a perfectly normal manner. I am just a commuter. I am just tired. I am “sheepole”. The thoughts drive through me like a steel rod, straightening my back and my resolve, like bolts of lightning, energizing and wild, like the truth which frees.

Impatiently, I wait for the train to stop and the doors to open. I tap my toes, check my watch, and adjust my bag. In an exaggerated motion I crane my neck looking for the conductor who will stand near the open the door waiting to help myself and the pair in front of me disboard. I mumble and “swear to god” under my breath. Everyone has backed away from the door except us three. Our mixed bag of emotions, as repellent as noxious gas, acts as a shield. No one wants to see the fear in the eyes of the man being taken for questioning or the joy in the young recruit’s. I remain impatient and agitated. I shift my bag to my side just as the train lurches to a stop. My perfectly timed fall is unavoidable and undignified. As the locked doors spring open the young recruit, I grabbed for stability, and I fall down the steps in a tangle.

The fearful man, selected for questioning, freezes for only an instant.

We lock eyes.

He nods once, then is gone.

The itchy feeling is back, but at least I no longer have to suffer the dreadful inactive silence. What comes next will have been worth it.

I am civil disobedience, and I will not be ignored.

 

Spring evening

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~Hungry eyes by ericadalmaso on DeviantArt~

Fucking spring.

I fasten the toggles on my Gloverall and start up the street. The wind pics up.

Tick…tick…tick tick tick tick tickticktick.

Perfect.

I hunch my shoulders, drop my head, and pull my hood up.

Squelch…skewe….squelch…skewe.

Damn it.

I shiver as a stray rain drop slides down my back.

Braaahhhhnnn! Ding ding ding ding. Brraahhhnn!

What time is it?

The cold wet of my pant leg starts to chafe pulling at my attention, a distraction from the ache in my side.

Slap, slap…shhaaaa…slap, slap…aaaahh…slap, slap. Ding…

I stop running and hold my side fighting for a full breath.

6:21! You gotta be kiddin’ me!

“You got a dollar miss? I need to get home.”

Yah, you and me both.

So this is an attempt at writing a first person present tense story. I became interested in this choice of perspective after I came across Whose skin am I in posted by J.S. Kuiken. This post was thought provoking and made me want to try my hand at a new and challenging story telling mechanism. Well it was very hard to tell the story without narrating, but I hope that I was able to keep you interested in my character and her plight. Be sure to check out J.S. Kuiken’s blog.

Façade

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As seen on Etsy - sookimstudio

It was subtle.  Not something the casual observer would have noticed.  Just a few well hidden hairline fractures in the otherwise perfect façade.  The constant fussing with her hair drawing unwanted attention to the pealing faux finish on her designer sunglasses.  The too fancy up-do nearly hiding the roots showing in her outgrown custom balayage highlights.  All the pieces were there, slightly shabby, but there, and to the unobservant she was a woman who had it all totally together.  Truthfully she was on the brink.  The clinched jaw, roving eyes, and fidgety hands gave her away.  She was holding on by her not so professionally manicured finger tips.

“You have to act like you don’t care,” I said over my shoulder when I caught her checking herself in the dark reflective glass of the subway window.

“Excuse me?”

“Act like you don’t care,” I repeated.  “If you have it, you know it, and you don’t have to check on it.”

Her mouth opened and closed a few times before she decided to ignore me, but she didn’t look in the glass again.  Instead she leaned back cocking her hip in an “I’m so bored pose”.  I couldn’t help but smile.

Poised

An acidic tang hung on the warm dry air, coating her tongue and souring her words, keeping unnecessary conversations to a minimum.  The silence suited Ayda though allowing her to stretch her senses as close to the horizon as possible knowing that the constant wind would distort sound and the fading light alter her depth perception.  Still she waited, poised, at the edge of a decision.  If going had been hard then returning would be nearly impossible.

“To the East,” she said moving forward in long steady strides.  They called her Ayda for a reason… nearly would be good enough.

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All rights to the owner who I thank for putting such a striking image on the internet.

Not time for daydreams

The tall slender birch trees stood at ridged attention like ancient sentries long forgotten and ghostly in the predawn darkness.  The birch ringed the clearing, which must have at one time or another been farm land, reminiscent of a whitewashed picket fence.  The thought made me smile, made me want to place the flat of my hand against the pale papery bark.  It made me wish that I was just on a small walk, just me, the clearing, and nature, but the truth was this wasn’t the time to be caught in daydreams. 

Part of me knew it was the escapist in me letting my eyes go unfocused and my mind wonder, another part registered how necessary this was for survival.  I knew that the mind could break under such stress and pressure without a free fall now and again.  So I savored my dark clearing and the peaceful birch guards watching over me because whether it was in a matter of hours, minutes, or split seconds the silence would end … and the moment would be lost to the waking world.  The peace would disappear like the morning mist and my sanity; with the blare of sirens, the call of machine guns, and the whistle of shells.  It was most decidedly not time for daydreams…

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