karma : Oh Fair New Mexico

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by Karen Fayeth

I Don’t Want To Be Right. Okay, Maybe I Do.

In my quest to 1) become a better person and 2) survive 2016 intact, several weeks ago I signed up for a mindfulness meditation class.

The instructor is lovely and the class is, well, relaxing. It makes me calmer and a better person in so many ways.

This whole meditation thing doesn’t really jibe with my New Mexico upbringing. Stress reduction is a bit different ’round here than it was there.

For example, where I live now, it’s awful hard to take a three-hour ride upon my favorite horse in order to relax. And driving out to Chopes for enchiladas and a beer is a longer drive than I can make in a day.

Meditation it is, then.

Last week, we had a long class discussion about the use of one’s car horn. How it’s not mindful or necessary to lay on the horn while traveling this world. How it can make things worse by scaring the other driver or making the other driver mad (and bad things come from that).

This is also in line with The Good Man and his rules for better living. Since we live in a more urban city than I’ve ever lived in before, he has asked me nicely give my horn honking a rest. These are tense times and occasionally I travel through tough neighborhoods. Who knows how the ol’ toot-toot will be received?

Really, this is all sage advice, both from the Vispassana teacher and the man I married.

Until yesterday, when I found myself in Oakland’s Chinatown neighborhood. Where the Chinatown in San Francisco is something of a tourist delight, the Oakland Chinatown is a serious ethnic neighborhood. It sits near Oakland’s downtown, so it’s busy, jam packed with traffic, and not to be taken lightly.

I’ve spent many an hour in Oakland’s Chinatown over my years and I love it. It had been a while, and was nice to be there again. I had a couple things on my shopping list that can only be found in that neighborhood.

As I rolled into the area, I made my way past city buses and double-parked cars, and was filled with glee to find a nice wide parking spot on the street just around the corner from where I needed to be. Score!

I carefully maneuvered over, waited while the car ahead loaded her kid in the car, had my blinker on the whole time and as I pulled forward to align and began to back into the spot, some $%^& started to pull head first into my spot.

Yay, verily, there was much laying on of horns. Oh yes. My beloved Jeep is equipped with not one but two bassy air horns that make it clear to whomever is on the receiving end that they have been properly honked. One firm flat-palm press lights up the hearing cavities of all nearby.

I held that Jeep horn with a solid hand, owing my destiny to all of the fabulous people throughout my years here in the Bay Area who taught me how to survive in a city. Indeed. I followed the playbook and hoped to hell this wouldn’t escalate into that driver getting out of their car.

Thus, as the interloper assessed the situation, she surely noticed my sixteen-year-old Jeep was far less shiny than her almost new SUV nosing into my spot. I held steady, knowing even then that the person backing in is at a disadvantage to the person trying to head in.

Finally the fancy car threw it in reverse and left, giving me an exaggerated shrug on the way by.

Here is the true confession: Damn did honking the hell out of my horn feel good. Like, real good. Like cold beer after a hard day of yard work. Like that first bite of a Chopes enchilada (egg and sour cream on top). Like finally getting out the splinter that is starting to fester.

I know it goes against everything my spouse and my learned teacher have asked of me. It wasn’t peaceful, nor kind. But damn did it feel good.

Almost too good.

Okay, okay. The horn honking is over. The satisfaction was quick and delicious. The endorphins rose and quickly dissipated.

Today I’ll rededicate myself to the peaceful life. To being more kind. To being more centered. To let traffic solve itself without the help of two weighty and meaningful Jeep air horns.

They don’t call meditation a practice for nothing. It takes work. Perfection is not expected. (I’ll add this note, I refrained from both cursing and arm waving in addition to the horn. It’s something to build on.)

Given the same situation, would I honk it up again? Hee, hee…probably.

Okay, okay. I’ll try harder.

Ooooohmmmmmmmmmmmmm……




Recycling one of my favorite photos.





Image found here.





Swinging For the Fences

When I began to seriously focus on submitting my writing to literary journals, I was schooled on the concept that it takes about one hundred rejections to get an acceptance.

Since submitting to one hundred journals takes a lot of research work, I began working with a really awesome service that helps me target submissions and keep track of rejections. Over the past several years, I have found that the one hundred rejection rule is pretty much true.

What this means is that I now get A LOT of rejections. In those first years most submissions were done by regular mail so I’d often have a mailbox crammed with rejection notices.

Now most submissions are done electronically and it is my email inbox that is filled to overflowing with rejection slips. They tend to come in waves. None for a while then six or eight at a time. Rejections usually show up when I’m having a really crappy day.

Receiving a pile of rejections just makes everything SO much better.

When I started getting that many rejection notices, it hurt at first. Each one was a tiny “ouch” and made me sad. Who could reject my perfect little carefully crafted babies?

Over time, I became immune to the sheer volume of no-thank-yous. The skin hardens a bit, the outlook toughens and now I just shrug and say “okay” and move on.

It’s what makes those occasional acceptances that much more sweet. A barrage of no and then a glowing, shiny, joyful yes.

Since I have had the good fortune to receive quite a few acceptances, my submission service has been trying to up my game a little bit.

By up my game, I mean in addition to the regular submissions to a lot of fine magazines that no one has heard of, they have been adding a few more well-known and highly regarded journals to my submission list.

I’m not quite up to the point of hitting up the New Yorker for publication, but names on the list recently include McSweeney’s, Harvard Review, Zoetrope and The Paris Review.

I always giggle just a little when I hit “submit” on those queries. That’s because the odds of my work seeing the light of such highly regarded and high circulation magazines is pretty slim. That said, you don’t hit a home run if you don’t swing at a few pitches. So I swing away.

The Good Man has a different view on the rejection process. He is always happy to see the rejections in the mailbox. His firm belief is that if they are saying no then at least they considered my work, if even for a moment.

He especially loves the so-called “good” rejections. The slips that have a personal note from the editor, or say something like “while we were unable to use this particular story, we’d like to see more work from you.”

Those good rejections are a tiny bit of bread to a starving writer. Those few words are enough to keep me working hard to get to yes.

Anyhow, all of this was on my mind as this morning I sorted through a stack of mail and opened a couple rejection slips. I can recognize them right away because when I do paper submissions, I include a self addressed stamped envelope.

When my own envelope returns to me, it’s almost always a no. Almost. I did get an acceptance one time in my SASE. I’d neglected to open it for almost two weeks and couldn’t believe it when I did open it. That was a nice surprise.

Anyhow, this morning’s envelope had a postmark from New York and inside resided the tiniest sliver of paper. What I estimate to be about one-eighth of a sheet of paper.

It’s from The Paris Review. A highly revered title.

They were able to spare just a tiny sliver of paper to tell me no way, Josephina.

And for a moment, I’d like to think about some low to no paid intern reading my story, considering it and then thoughtfully sending this slip.

I’m sure they LOVED my work, it just didn’t fit the themes on their literary calendar. Right?

Right.








A Conversation

(A conversation between the warring factions in my brain. From about an hour ago.)

What’s this?





Duh, it’s a screwdriver.

Go deeper.

A flat head screwdriver.

Keep going.

A Sears Craftsman flat head screwdriver.

Bingo. Now, why are you holding this in your hand and staring at it so intently?

Because this Sears Craftsman flat head screwdriver is not mine.

Yes. This screwdriver isn’t mine. I mean, I found it in the bottom of my toolbox. I was looking for some electrical tape to repair my iPhone charging cable. Because I’m too cheap to buy a new one.

Yes, I have a toolbox. Mine. And I’ve got some nice tools. Only, I don’t have any Craftsman tools. I’m also too cheap to buy good quality handtools. What, am I building a skyscraper? No. I have never bought a Craftsman tool because I make do with discount store goods.

Except for this screwdriver. My lone Craftsman in a sea of cheapies.

And?

And when I look at this tool, I can tell it’s been used. A lot. It’s not new. It’s scuffed, the handle shows traces of white paint. The tip is scratched to hell and someone has used the base to try to hammer something.







And?

And I just remembered where I got this Sears Craftsman flat head screwdriver.

I stole it from my father.

Okay, stole is probably too strong a word, but I did lift it from his toolbox and did not return it.

I kind of feel bad about that. He used to get so ticked when his tools didn’t find their way back to his toolbox. Can you blame him?

I wish I could give it back. Only I can’t. He’s been gone for ten years and I’ve been carrying around this stolen property without even knowing I still had it.

But I do. Still have it. Now. Today. In the bottom of my toolbox, nestled next to the electrical tape and a bent hand saw blade. The saw blade is mine. All mine. Cheaply made, hence the wrinkle in the metal.

But that Sears Craftsman flat head screwdriver that came along with me from New Mexico to California. That’s a quality tool. The logo has rubbed off and the metal is a bit rusty. And it’s filled with memories, both good and bad. A lot of memories. So many I got a little lost.

What is Vanadium anyway? It says that word on the handle. Ah it’s a mineral. It’s a fancy word used to make this tool seem important. A simple Sears Craftsman flat head screwdriver.




It is kind of important, in its own way.







All photos used are Copyright © 2015 Karen Fayeth and subject to the Creative Commons license in the right column of this page. Shot with an iPhone 6 and the Camera+ app.




It’s Such a Small World

Over past few years of my life I have been fortunate enough to engage in some international travel. I have truly visited some of the great cities of the world.

Traveling outside of the borders of the United States has made me a better person in many ways, not the least of which is that I have come to appreciate my own country more by not being in it for a few days at a time.

I recall spending Fourth of July in England, gazing over the Thames while pondering that the Fourth of July is about so much more than hot dogs and sparklers. It really made the summer holiday mean something to me.

The other thing that international travel has done is give me a front row seat on gaining perspective of just how large this big blue marble really is. Gigantic. And how people are different and yet people are the same.

One aspect that I have experienced on each of my overseas trips has been a small moment of humanity, a connection, finding a shared place with another person even as I feel the dislocation of being in another country.

It happened in Dublin, and is such a fond memory. It also happened in Amsterdam, and I guess it’s taken a little while for the beauty of the interaction to sink in.

Let me tell the tale:

I arrived in Amsterdam on Sunday at about 7:30am. Schiphol airport was quiet and calm in the early morning hours.

My fellow passengers and I came off our flight from Newark and walked into the airport, quickly cleared customs and stood by the baggage return waiting.

And waiting.

You see, in Europe, things don’t always move on the timescale that Americans are used to. It’s just how it is.

I hadn’t slept in something like eighteen hours and I was wobbly on my pins, but resolved. Finally after the eternity of a half hour, the bags started rolling through the baggage return. Hooray!

People scurried to get their luggage and wandered off into the Amsterdam day. I kept watching bags go by that were not mine.

Finally the flow of luggage slowed to a trickle and I knew, I just knew. My bag didn’t make it.

I had a very tight transfer time in Newark, less than an hour, and I had flat out ran to get between gates and onto the plane, so I was just certain my bag didn’t make it as fast as I had.

Shoot. That was the word foremost in my mind. Only not the word with the two o’s in the middle. The other word. I just kept saying that word over and over and over.

I looked around and saw I wasn’t alone. There were about eight of us standing there with no luggage.

We all looked at each other, shrugged and walked in unison over to the United Baggage customer service desk.

I was toward the back of the line so I struck up a conversation with a dude standing in line with a guitar slung over his shoulder.

He told me that he and his wife had come from Cleveland and that they were in Amsterdam to see their son, who is in a band, play a show. They were going to follow him on a couple tour stops.

Then he pointed to his guitar and said, “I’m going to try to do a little busking while I am here. The quality of the people I’ve seen busking in Amsterdam is pretty low, so I know I can do better than that.”

I spent too many years in the company of musicians to do anything other than laugh and agree. And I said, “That’s cool. When I get some Euros, if I see you playing, I will throw some your way.” He laughed and said thanks.

About that time the United customer service person said that the baggage handlers had failed to look in the “basement” of the plane, and our bags should be along directly. Lo and behold, my stuff showed up. I whipped it off the baggage return and stumbled my way out into the beautiful Amsterdam morning.

And then I settled into my little Amsterdam life, walking the canals, eating stroopwafels, visiting the Van Gogh museum, and work. Oh yeah, this was not a vacation but a work trip, and the work meetings were two full days (day and night) and massively intense.

On Tuesday evening, I stumbled out of the offices with my brain dead and my body exhausted. We had been through an intense day and were on a short one-hour break before meeting back at the offices to go to dinner.

I strolled along the Singel, which is the center of Amsterdam. I was so tired and concentrating on not turning my ankles on the cobblestones near the flower market. My hotel was only a few blocks from there.

As I walked, feeling out of my mind and brain dead, I heard someone playing guitar and singing. I remembered the guy I had met at the airport and wondered what had become of him.

As I rounded a curve, I saw a man in shorts and a porkpie hat busking at the end of an alleyway and in front of a closed store. He was putting a lot of gusto into the song, “Santeria” and had his backed turned to me.

I walked past and looked. Sure enough, it was my fellow passenger.

I pulled out my wallet and looked to see what I had to give. I found a five Euro bill, then walked up and said, “I promised I’d give you some Euros” and dropped the bill into his guitar case.

He looked puzzled and said, “Thanks. Are you an American?”

He didn’t recognize me, so I said, “We’ve met. Remember at baggage claim in Sunday?”

His eyes went wide, “Heeey! How cool is this?” He pointed out his wife who was shopping one of the stores a bit down the path. He told me he had seen his son play the night before and that he and his wife were off to Brussels in the morning for his son’s next show.

We chatted for a few moments, then I said, “I just had to stop and I’m so sorry for interrupting your song, that is rude of me.”

“No, no! Here, let me give you something! Here, take one of our CDs.”

So I did, and I thanked him and headed off with a smile on my face and a little more bounce in my step.

I get that Amsterdam is a small city and that the flower market is a popular place to be, but that one moment of humanity made this great big gigantic overwhelming world seem just a little bit smaller.

That felt pretty good to a little tired American girl wandering the canals of Amsterdam.

With a cheers from San Francisco to the fine city of Cleveland.

Here’s the band if you are inclined to check them out:

Cats on Holiday




Copyright © 2014 Karen Fayeth

I took this photo later that same night with a couple of Dutch beers under my belt and a song in my heart. I call this one “Amsterdam Moon” for the The Mavericks song of the same name.







Photo Copyright © 2014, Karen Fayeth, and subject to the Creative Commons license in the right column of this page. Taken with an iPhone5 and the Camera+ app. Post processed with Snapseed.




Beginning at the End

When I have had a big event, a big adventure or just something interesting happen in my life, I almost always have to spend a little time processing it, usually out loud and on these pages.

Having just returned from a weeklong trip to Ireland, I’m pretty sure that readers here will be treated to (tormented by?) several posts about my days in Dublin. I had such a wonderful time and I want to get all the stories out and onto the page.

The question is, where to begin? Some would say start at the beginning. Some would say start somewhere in the middle when things begin to get good. Others still say to start wherever you want.

The thing is, I usually don’t get a say in where to begin telling a story. The Muse has a mind of her own and she tends to open one sliding door in my mind to show me what she’s interested in, while keeping the other doors firmly closed until she’s good and ready.

What I mean today is that there is one story, one experience, that keeps replaying in my mind. It is the sum of my entire view of Ireland and probably belongs at the end of the entire tale.

But why cave to the convention of putting the end of the story at the end? This is what I want to write, so this is what will be written. For today, at least.

Here we go…

The hotel where I stayed was in a rather upscale suburb of Dublin named Donnybrook. Back in the day, Donnybrook used to be the scene of an event called the Donnybrook Fair. And by “back in the day”, I mean like the 1200’s through the 1800s.

Evidently that event turned from a nice twelve-day fair, fun for the whole family, to a drunken brawling event. In fact the very word donnybrook has come to mean a brawl or fracas.

The Catholic Church took a dim view of this debauchery (as they are wont to do) and ultimately lobbied for the fair to shut down, mainly by building a church right at the event site.

This is a great story, I love it, but it’s kind of tangential. Let me get back on track. In this wonderful Donnybrook neighborhood, there are quite a few shops, restaurants and a couple pubs.

One of the pubs, named McCloskey’s, was about a half a block away from where I was staying. I could see it from the window in my hotel room.




Image found here.


I had walked past the place quite a few times but was never brave enough to go in. Something about genuine pubs kind of intimidates me. It’s a mix of the expected amount of hesitation being a woman going into a bar alone, and my propensity to overworry that I’ll somehow say or do something that breaks the unwritten protocol of the pub.

I also never am sure how Americans are perceived so it’s always a little tentative for me. Which is silly because of the pubs I’ve encountered in the UK and now Ireland, it’s always been a lovely experience.

On Thursday after what had been a busy and intense workweek, I decided to go inside McCloskey’s. I was hungry, I love pub food, and I was in desperate need of a pint.

With a deep breath, I opened the door and went in. I walked the length of the place to give it a look-see and decided to stay, taking up a corner seat at the bar.

The bartender was a fireplug of a man, in his early fifties, with a pugilistic look about him and a vibe that was clear he knew how to run a pub. He could and would toss your ass out without hesitation and with force.

He came over and slid a napkin on the bar like skipping a rock and asked, “What’ll you have?”

“A pint of Guinness,” I replied with confidence. He nodded with a grunt and poured the beer. In hindsight, I should have just said “A Guinness,” the pint is understood.

What a lovely pint it was. A perfect pour, the perfect temperature, perfect creamy foam on top. Oh yes. I wanted to take a picture of it so I could always remember that beautiful moment, but thought better of it. It felt like the bartender may take a dim view of selfies and Instagram in his pub.

As he set the pint down I asked, “Can I order some food?”

“Er, yeah, we have a stew, the fish and something else I can’t remember” he said.

“I’ll have the fish,” I said.

“Fish and chips, you know?”

“Yep!”

He grunted again and went off to the kitchen to place the order. I sat there feeling tense and sipping my beer. There were really only about four people in the pub, all quietly drinking and keeping to themselves. 1970’s disco played from a small boom box to fill the atmosphere.

Next to me was a stack of local newspapers so I picked one up and read it, giving me something to do as I sat alone and tried to act normal.

After a bit my food came and it was so delicious. Light and crispy cod, perfect chips and slices of tomato. I ate it joyfully and drank my Guinness and suddenly everything was really right with the world.

During this time, the bartender mostly ignored me. He was friendly but distant. Gruff but fair, I suppose, and that was fine.

While I ate, a group of people came in. They were obviously all family, and they took up chairs and seats around several tables. Then more and more kept arriving. There were probably twenty or more people and one older gentleman with graying hair was buying all the drinks.

These folks were all in a good mood and talking excitedly. At one point someone teased the older man about “never being around” and he tipped his pint glass to them and said, “now that’s one thing you can never say about my term! My opponent can’t say the same.”

It was then I sussed out that this might be a local politician. I heard someone call him by his first name and as I was texting the play by play to The Good Man, he did a quick Google search and we discovered I was in the pub with the local councilman. Elections were due to be held the next day. My guess is he was out celebrating the end of his campaign run with friends and family.

As the crowd grew, it became such a convivial atmosphere. I sat next to one of his daughters and we chatted and laughed. Her son, who looked to be about five, ordered a cranberry juice and wanted it served in a Guinness pint glass. Everyone bought and ate small cans of Pringles.

As ever more people kept piling in, I kind of felt like I needed to get out of there. I’m sure I could have stayed and been fine, but I started to feel like an outsider.

So I hopped up from my barstool and went over the cash register where the bartender stood. He turned to me and I said, “I’d like to tab out, please.”

“Oh sure,” he replied and began ringing me up.

“That will be twelve euros fifty,” he said. I handed him a twenty euro bill.

He took it and looked me, touched my hand and said, “You doing okay, darlin’? Was everything all right?” with genuine concern in his eyes.

I replied, “Yes, it was great. I’m…I’m just a little jet lagged and very low energy.”

He had a sparkle in his eye when he smiled, then tapped my hand again and said, “That’s okay, darlin’, you still look gorgeous!” He laughed like a schoolboy while he got my change.

He put the bills and coins in my palm and said, “now you have a good night, eh?”

I left the pub with a smile on my face. Now that, the whole story and everything in it, that’s Ireland to me.

It is a wonderful, charming and friendly place. I loved every minute of the time I spent in the city of Dublin and the district of Donnybrook.




A view from my hotel room. Lovely! Copyright © Karen Fayeth, 2014




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