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)

 

 

Montana Memories — a guest post by Janet Fisher

Here at Montana Women Writers, we love celebrating new books by old friends! This book is particularly special, as it explores an unusual historical event — a homestead farm in Oregon, settled by a woman in the 1860s and still run by a woman, the homesteader’s great-great-granddaughter and a dear friend of ours.   

MONTANA MEMORIES

Janet Fisher  Author Photo-croppedby Janet Fisher

Montana seems to nurture writers, whether from the spectacular landscapes or the long winters or the ruggedness of nature that challenges people to go deep inside themselves, then reach out to each other, ready to help.

I understand the link Montanans feel for their beautiful homeland, from roots that may be long grown or just started. For several years I lived in Kalispell, Montana, and shared the wonder of Montana’s beauty and the friendliness of its people. But Oregon ultimately called me back. That’s my own place of roots, which gave me my first published book, A Place of Her Own: The Legacy of Oregon Pioneer Martha Poindexter Maupin. The book just came out (published by Globe Pequot Press/TwoDot imprint, and available now – links here).

Book cover - A Place of Her OwnWhen I moved to Kalispell in the late 1990s, I didn’t consider myself a novice as a writer. I had a master’s in journalism, had been writing novels for several years, and had honed the skills enough to attract a few agents. But no publishers.

Then I started attending meetings of the Authors of the Flathead. I had never met so many dedicated writers who were so willing to help other struggling authors. The group met every week, offering open mike several times a month (great experience for doing readings at later book signings). Before long, I got into two critique groups, which also met weekly.

I recall many an evening, three nights a week, driving through snowy streets to meetings. I lived and breathed writing there. My prose became tighter, smoother, crisper. I learned how to write a battle scene after the men in one group threw up their hands upon reading my first attempt. So many people helped me improve the work.

And when I finally a got a book published, I named names. I had to acknowledge those in my critique groups who had cheerfully offered both criticism and encouragement. That’s what I took away from Montana, and I will always have a warm spot for that beautiful place with all its beautiful people. Several kept helping, even after I left.

When I returned to the family farm in Oregon, I began thinking about the woman who came before me on that property. It turns out I had the winning combination for a publishable book in my own family. A Place of Her Own is the story of my great-great-grandmother Martha, who came west over the Oregon Trail in 1850, lost her husband, and had to care for their many children alone. She made a daring choice to set down roots in this wilderness and bought the piece of land I own and operate today—now one of the few Century Farms in Oregon named for a woman.

Janet in cathedralThis photo shows me in one of my favorite spots on the farm, a patch of woods we call “the cathedral.” Some of you Montanans may remember the photographer, my son-in-law Robin Loznak, who used to be the photographer for the Daily Inter Lake in Kalispell. He also lives on the farm now with my daughter Carisa and their son, Alex. The book contains several of his pictures taken on the property.

They’re why I made that move to Montana, in fact. My grandson, Alex, was very young when they lived in Kalispell, and I wanted to be close to him during his early years. I didn’t realize my time there would offer the added advantage of enriching my writing.

Thank you, Montana, for all you taught me.

Photos of Janet by Robin Loznak. Read more about Janet and follow her blog on her website

Thank you, Janet, for all you taught us!

Leslie, for the MT WW crew

Marie’s Memories, A Memoir, Story Four

Story 4 Diving Boards

The bend in the creek made a great swimming hole. Kids being kids, we were not satisfied with jumping off the bank. Therefore, we spent hours building diving boards of various sizes and shapes. The engineering of these magnificent boards was something to see.
One of the benefits of Dad working in a sawmill was that he brought home scraps and pieces of lumber. He supplied us with old lumber for our projects. One day he even gave us a plank.
Our cousins from Kalispell were visiting. They spent a lot of time at our house in the summer. Jeanie, Bernie and Lyle were a shade older and very sophisticated. They were town kids. Bernie and Lyle lugged the plank the half mile to the creek. We built up the bank with the clay, making it as high as we dared and plenty wide enough to hold the plank. We placed it just prefect with one end sticking out over the water. We piled lots of rocks and boulders on the bank end to hold it in place. After many hours and much labor our supreme board was completed.
Norma was the only one whoever got to make a dive off the boards we made. She was the biggest, and it fell to her to be the test diver. If the board held up for her, then anyone of us could use it in relative safety. We watched from the bank as diving board after diving board fell into the water with great splashes of water when Norma jumped off.
This board was no different.
“We should get to go first,” said Bernie and Lyle. “We lugged the plank to the creek.”
Norma gave them the evil eye.
“All right,” said Bernie, “we’ll watch for weak spots in the rocks.
Norma took her time. She inched her way out onto the board. She jiggled it up and down.
“Any weak spots,” she asked.
“Naw,” answered Bernie.
Norma sprang in the air. Her feet came down on the board for a mighty lift off. It buckled, sending rocks and boulders high. Norma hit the water with a belly flop that shook the earth and sent a spray of water arcing over us. Her scream is what I remember. Never heard one like it again. I wondered how she avoided getting killed and going to heaven.

The Connor Cousins

The Connor Cousins

Memoir is available for all to read on mariefmartin.com