SLEEPING ROUGH

Diane

 

by Diane E Bokor

Flash nonfiction is creative nonfiction that usually comes in under 750 words.  It is a form that works well for writing memoir, essays and remembered events. There are many challenges to this genre.  You can learn more about writing “flash” in The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Nonfiction edited by Brevity Magazine’s editor, Dinty Moore.  What follows is a piece of my flash nonfiction.

Woke up… got out of bed… ran a comb across my head

It was predawn dark at 4AM when I turned on the radio, set perpetually to NPR.  At that hour, it’s always BBC World News. A guy with a very British accent was going on and on about the various ways social scientists try to measure the homeless population of San Francisco.  Over there, across the pond, they call it “sleeping rough.”

By mid-morning, I received the daily call from my bereft brother.  Except, this week he hasn’t called me for several days in a row. I took this as a good sign, as a new and improved phase since the death of our mother.  Upon her death, he was a howling animal, mad with grief. Each time we talk now, he tears up at some point in the conversation. During this conversation, I found out that he hadn’t been sleeping.  He lives alone now, in our mom’s condo, surrounded by all of her things, their things. He never goes outside, except maybe to check the mail. He tries to sleep. He went to his bed, then to hers, then to the recliner on the lanai, then to the recliner in front of the TV, then to the air-bed in the guest room, where I had been sleeping.  His voice was rough, his mood was rough and it occurred to me that he had found his own form of “sleeping rough.”

By afternoon, my dog needed a walk, so I pulled my SUV into the city park.  Unseasonably cold for early autumn, I was prepared with a cozy coat, a furry hat and a pair of gloves.  As I pulled the key out of the ignition, heavy fatigue hit me. It had been, after all, a very early rise this morning.  That, on top of the brother-worry I carried just below the surface. I explained to my dog (even though, he got the gist of my behavior before I did) that a little nap was in order before our walk.  I flattened the driver’s seat, balled my coat into a pillow, pulled the furry hat down over my weary eyes, curled into a fetal position and faded away. Eventually, I arose from a dream to the sound of lagoon geese honking.  And I thought, am I “sleeping rough?” 

Hours later, after multiple errands, I found myself again walking this patient little dog who seemed thrilled to spend the stop-and-go day with Mom.  It was a weird place for a dog walk. Evergreen is the low-rent end of town and we were behind an abandoned box-store near the grocery of my next errand.  Generally, I love exploring nooks and crannies with this guy, so we took off toward a wooded lot we had never seen (or sniffed) before. There was a fence with an open gate and a beckoning path lined with a jumble of weeds.  In the back of my head, I could hear my mom’s fearful rants to be careful “out there.” It’s a voice I fight with often – adventure and exploration versus safety and comfort. Off we went… There was no one else around, just a woman (me) with her little dog walking into a wooded lot in a sketchy part of town.  I’ve always been a sucker for a curving path in the woods. That’s why my mom was always ranting.

Not too far in, I saw it.  Stopped in my tracks. I squinted hard looking for movement.  Hard to say. Was there a guy in there, under the low-hanging boughs of the ginormous fir tree?  I saw tarps and cardboard boxes. Trash and clothing were strewn about. Was that lump somebody “sleeping rough?”

“Come on, puppy, we’ve got to go!”  I turned on my heels and said a little prayer for that guy, for my brother and for all those in the San Francisco headcount.

At bedtime, my feather pillow was calling my name.  I crawled under a heated blanket and on top of fresh percale.  The mattress was the perfect firmness. The room temperature was controlled.  One of those fake candles on a timer cast a soft golden glow. This was the exact opposite of “sleeping rough” and yet I tossed and turned for hours.  Then got up to put it all into words.                              

(Word count = 720)

 

 

Greenhorns

By Diane E. Bokor

In the 1970s, something in the culture shifted.  You often heard of people going “back to the land.” Tom and I were among them.  That is how I ended up here in northwest Montana, reflecting on one of the biggest decisions of my life.  We were twenty-five-year-old city kids who married after meeting in college. We were old enough to be completely emancipated and young enough to do some pretty stupid stuff.  We were greenhorns.

We had made a life in the great white city on the hill (San Francisco) when we caught the bug.  We sold everything that would not fit in the back of our grey Dodge Ram. We quit our jobs and hit the road in search of our piece of “the land.”

We arrived in Kalispell the first week of May, 1976.  It was hot that week, 90 degrees hot. This pleased me greatly, as there were two things that gave me pause about this adventure:  cold temperatures and wild bears. I’ll work on my fear of bears, I thought, this is going to be just fine. It’s just not that cold here.  

All but our brand spanking new REI camping gear went into storage as we headed “back to the land.”  Well, not literally “back” as we had not actually been there yet. We had a plan. Tom and I would spend the summer exploring the region, campground by campground.  In the fall, we would decide where to settle, where to buy our piece of this land. Then, we would confidently figure out the rest of the story.

We had been living in our tiny two-man tent greenhorns campsite for three weeks when Memorial Day weekend rolled around.  It rained for four solid days. I now know that this is a typical Flathead weather pattern. That weekend I was traumatized for four days, peeking out of a blue nylon tent flap, cold and damp, nibbling on candy bars.  It was too wet to start a fire. It was too wet to crawl out of the tent. Forty-three years later, I can tell you that even with climate change, it will rain at some point on Memorial Day weekend in the Flathead.

Later that summer, after drying out, I awoke at dawn to a noise coming from the direction of our campsite picnic table.  Severely nearsighted without my glasses, I sat up in my cozy down sleeping bag, rubbed my eyes and opened them to make out a park ranger bending over our table.  Weird, I thought, why is he up so early?  With my glasses on, I was shocked. HOLY MOSES!  A BEAR! greenhorns bearA man-sized black bear was standing on his rear legs, rooting through the box of groceries we had covered with a plastic garbage bag, to keep it dry of course.  The bear had found our green grapes. Greenhorns with green grapes.

Due to my life long fear of bears, I was pretty sure I was going to die.  Obviously, I did not. Tom was able to find the Dodge keys. I grabbed my single-lens-reflex Minolta.  In our pajamas, like commandos who scurry along the perimeter of a battlefield, we made our way to the passenger side of the truck.  Once safely ensconced in steel and glass, I snapped evidence of our stupidity. If not for the snapshot this whole incident might be lost to the mists of time.

Back then, there were no signs instructing campers about food storage.  There was no host coming by each evening to warn/threaten campers about food storage.  There were no campground brown metal communal food lockers. You can thank me and Tom (and the rest of our ilk) for all that.  

2019.04.23 The Newbie gets to work

 

By Diane E. Bokor

Hello again from the Newbie Writer, who a few months ago decided to get serious and develop professional habits.  I am happy to report that I have been chipping away at my essay project, producing lots of words on the page. Hooray!

I write to you from Camp NaNoWriMo (the thirty days of April).  My days here at the (virtual) Camp have been significantly rearranged.  Well before dawn’s early light, well before the first bird sings, I wake to the inner trumpet call, the reveille, the call to the keyboard.  

A Writer told me, “Write before your inner critic wakes up.”

That advice seems to work.  

Work. The word keeps coming up.  When I discuss my project with non-writer friends, I often get,

“Oh, that sounds like a lot of work,” as they shake their heads, no-no-no-not-for-me.

Work, as in that school essay they were assigned.  

Another Writer told me, “Give yourself space and time to really wander, to really enjoy the process, especially of the first draft.”

So daily, here at Camp NaNo, I get lost each morning, playing in the woods of words, writing only about things that interest me. It is becoming a habit.

I have a strong work ethic. I admire those with a strong work ethic. But the work of creative writing versus the work of chores on the mundane to-do list…Aye, there’s the rub. I’ve been trained to get up before the birds to keep my household running smoothly.  It comes naturally to me to start a day by tidying the house, responding to emails and calling customer service about yet another situation that needs to be resolved.

Here at Camp, I get the writing done first and go about the day with this funny virtuous feeling in my heart.  I fed my starved inner Artist (who has been hiding in the dark for decades). I worked toward my Goal.

As James Brown would say, “I feel good!”

A new way to live.  Writer with a capital W. Thank you to the women of Montana Women Writers, who show up to share and support and show the way.

Your new friend,

The Newbie

Thoughts from a Newbie

Diane

Diane E Bokor is a deeply rooted Montana transplant who loves to hike, garden and explore new horizons of the mind.  She lives in Kalispell with her famous dog, Roscoe.

 

 

By Diane E. Bokor

Do I qualify to be in a group called Montana Women Writers?

I am a woman who lives in Montana.  I like to write. I was invited to take a seat at the table.  I showed up and now I am writing a short piece for the MWW blog.  If this piece gets published, I have my answer! I am shy about my writing.  I don’t have much confidence — yet. But, thank you, Montana Women Writers for your openness to a shy newbie wannabe like me.

Does everyone start with a vomit draft?  I love my fingertips on the keyboard trying to keep up with my bubbling thoughts.  It’s a race and a real mess. If I can remember to hit “save” occasionally, the thoughts are captured and the crafting of a piece begins.  It feels like good, honest work to change fragmented thoughts into cogent sentences and shape sentences into a well-formed essay. Adding commas and capitals or finding typos is as satisfying as tidying my house with windows open to a fresh Montana breeze.  I am always aware of the red pen of my 12th grade English teacher, Miss Basenbach.  She was a real hard ass and I am ever grateful.

For my current writing life, my goal is simple: write reflections on the 70 years of this life.  I have told my shy writer-self that these reflections are for the benefit of my grandchildren. That is a pure motivation and a target audience that, theoretically, will be automatically appreciative.  These current reflections are my heart’s desire, the meaningful purpose of my third act.

When discussion around a writers’ table turns to plot, publication and agents, I merely smile and listen.  What could I have to contribute to that discussion? One day, while merely listening, I heard a jokey little comment about “developing professional habits”.  It led to the discovery of Turning Pro by Steven Pressfield and that changed everything.  A switch got flipped. No more vague daydreaming. I know my purpose.  I am developing professional habits. I show up at the keyboard each day (ummm, mostly) and I capture my life stories.  I no longer feel like a fraud. I can participate in this blog because of a fresh start.

This newbie can truthfully say she is beginning to be a Montana Woman Writer.