When the Journey Becomes the Destination #AmWriting

The GoldenTours’ bus was one stop light and 100-feet away, idling at Stop 22, St. Martin-in-the-Fields. I shifted from one foot to the other, whispering “change, light, change” and praying the bus wouldn’t pull away. Traffic finally stopped. I stepped off the sidewalk as the pedestrian light switch to green and jogged to the bus.

“Is this the bus going to the Tower of London?” I dug through my too-small purse, hunting for my bus pass.

“Yes. Yes. This is the bus.” The driver smiled broadly and nodded his dark-haired head. I noted his accent. It wasn’t British.

“I’d hoped to be at the Tower by one. It’s already…” I looked at my watch and did the math. I’d only have two hours for my tour. I sighed. “It’s already 2:15.”
I held out some papers, not even sure if the ticket was among them. Still smiling he said, “No need.”

I thanked him and fell into the first seat behind the stairs. I tapped my foot on the floor and stopped only when the bus pulled forward. I stuck in my earbuds and open my worn GoldenTours map. Only five stops to go. I traced the path, studied the distance from stop to stop. My heart sank. We still had to travel one-third of the map.

“It’s okay. You only need an hour and a half at the Tower,” called the driver.

I wanted to tell him Rick Steves’ London 2019 says I need three hours. Instead I nodded.

I’d had a plan—I’d hop from red bus to the yellow bus then to orange and cut across London, staying on the straightaways and skipping the scenic detours. It would’ve been a good plan, had there been a yellow bus. There wasn’t. I had to walk the yellow bus’s route.
Shoulders back, I had walked along Piccadilly. I’d rushed past the Ritz and Fortnum & Mason. For a brief second I slowed as I passed the Royal Academy of Arts. I longed to go in. But no. I had Tower tickets and no time to waste. Once again I picked up my pace: first Haymarket, then Pall Mall. I headed for the gray lump of a statue on the GoldenTours’ map.

This time I slowed. Then stopped. I pieced together where I was. The map’s lump of gray was Trafalgar Square. There were fountains, lions, and Admiral Horatio Nelson was 170-feet overhead. Was that the National Gallery? I snapped some photos and wondered, how does anybody decide what to see in London? And I ran for the bus.

As we waited at the Covent Garden stop, for what I did not know, I asked the driver, “Where are you from?”

“Spain,” he said. He told me he came to London seven years prior for work. He didn’t miss Spain, yet he spoke of his home with pride. “My name is Aritz. It’s a Basque name.”

Basque is the oldest language in Europe. According to Culture Trip, the Basque language is a “linguistic mystery”, and existed before Romance languages. At the next stop Aritz called me up to the cab again. He scribbled a map of Spain on a dirty envelope and placed two dots in the northeast corner. Starting with the point nearest to France, he said, “This is my town, and this is the Guggenheim.” Both are in the heart of the Basque-speaking region that encompasses northeast Spain and southwest France.

For the remainder of the trip I sat in the high seat to the left of the cab. Aritz pointed out his favorite London sites and spoke of his home in Spain. He delivered me to the Tower of London in time for an hour and half tour, but it is today’s journey to the Tower that will not be forgotten.

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A Few #ShortStories for You

In September 2017, I enrolled in the University of New Hampshire’s MFA in Writing program with two goals: (1) learn how to write a compelling short story, and (2) learn how to publish short stories.  I have far to go in the program, but wanted to share some of my early successes with you.

Recently, several of my flash fiction stories and prose-poems have been published on-line. If you click each icon below and read and like the story, please let the on-line publisher know. You can either click “Like” or promote the publisher’s page by Tweeting or sharing on Facebook.

The Copperfield Review: The Forester’s Soup

 

Gravel: Light the Way Home

Scarlet Leaf Review: Prose Poems

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thank you all for your support as I continue my writing journey.

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Posted in Fiction, Reading and Writing | Tagged ,

Considering #Perception

Yesterday I posted a photo to Instagram. The last streetlights still shone as the sun rose behind the maple trees in Durham, New Hampshire. The sunrise sparked upwards, yellow and orange, splattering red out and up, and fading to gentle pink and blue. It occurred to me, even as I enjoyed a stunning sunrise unlike any I’d seen before, that our neighbors out west might perceive this fiery display as something to fear.

I suppose I’ve always been fascinated by how the same situation, event, video, or person can be perceived so differently depending on each person’s past experience. For example, there is a video playing on our local university’s home page. In it, smoke fills the air. People are screaming. The first time I saw the video, I watched horrified, wondering what terrible event had occurred over the weekend. With the second viewing I realized that it wasn’t smoke and screaming I was viewing. It was chalk dust and laughter as fans celebrated a football game kick-off.

college

But was my initial perception that far off? I asked several co-workers, all who say that they were at the football game that day and it was so much fun. Or they said, “Obviously, it’s a football game.” I’ve yet to find anybody who had the visceral reaction to this video that I had. Yet, look at war photos from overseas. Remember September 11, 2001.

The football game video still plays. I still avert my eyes.

Thirty some-odd years ago, I married. While planning our wedding Mass, my mother and I were discussing the final blessing. I had selected The Blessing of Aaron (Numbers 6:24-26). I wanted it sung using the same composition I had learned in my high school’s Glee Club.  That rendition is similar to the one below, performed by the Homewood-Flossmoor High School’s Viking Choir.

~sigh~   ~so beautiful~

Mom wasn’t enamored with my choice. “You do know that Aaron was being blessed before he went to war,” she said. “Do you really think that it’s an appropriate blessing for a wedding?”

Now forget for a moment whether her interpretation of the passage is correct. It is what she believed. She perceived the blessing would invoke conflict.

I remember pondering her words. It saddened me to think the blessing’s peaceful lyrics were a battle-cry.  Then it occurred to me, perhaps it was the perfect blessing for a marriage. My husband-to-be and I would commit “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and health.” We’d have each other’s backs. We’d stand side-by-side. In gratitude we’d accept all that the world offered and mourn all it would take away.

For me, The Blessing of Aaron wasn’t preparing us for marital conflict. Rather it blessed us as we joined forces, binding our lives together.

Powerful perception. Use with care.

 

Posted in Inspiration | Tagged | 3 Comments

Scarlet Leaf Review

Summer 2018 (15)

Humble gratitude to The Scarlet Leaf Review for publishing my prose poetry in its August 2018 online edition. You can access my page at https://www.scarletleafreview.com/poems14/category/barbara-rath.

 

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Technology and Creativity

Last Autumn, in my first writing workshop, I joked that the difference between a Master of Information Technology and a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) is I can do my MFA homework while resting in my hammock. While that statement is true (at least in the waning days of summer), its levity doesn’t do justice to the challenges faced by fiction writers muddling through a semester of creative writing.

When studying IT, I worked in small multi-lingual teams, interviewed clients, wrote code, created dynamic statistical models, assembled PCs, loaded myriad operating systems, and networked hardware into LANs and WANs. We didn’t do all-nighters. We did all-week-enders. We set sleep set aside in the pursuit of teaching a machine to do what we wanted.

More than a decade later, I decided to pursue an MFA in Fiction writing at the University of New Hampshire (UNH), fitting two classes per term around full-time work. That first semester, afghan-wrapped in my hammock, I read Chekhov and O’Connor, short stories from the New Yorker and Glimmer Train, and stories by my peers. More than 100 pages per week, each story read at least two times. After that, with limited knowledge of craft, I wrote three critiques per week, suggesting improvements to my peers’ narratives, stories which awed and humbled me. Creative tales, dynamic characters with inspiring internal conflict, and descriptions so lovely and brutal and pertinent.

Then, cowed with self-doubt it was my turn. Settings, characters, plot, external and internal conflict, scenes, dialog, climax and epiphany, all must weave together into a coherent tale to entertain and enlighten. My first term, the stories rolled out. Not easily, but they found me and two are now almost ready to circulate. The second term, nothing. I was immobilized. It seemed that all my classmates wrote beautiful sentences, coherent paragraphs, killer first lines, and deep emotions. Me? Nothing. Nada. Nill.

That is the true challenge of an MFA in Fiction Writing. In IT, if I worked hard and asked questions, I accomplished my tasks. There were right answers (many of them in fact) and wrong answers. There was no gray. Fiction writing is black, white, gray, and all the colors of a sun-shower rainbow. Sometimes you have to sit in a chair for hours, or even days, and write gibberish. Then suddenly a character steps forward and says Fine. Write my story. But I’m not going to make it easy for you. At that point you latch on and go for the ride, never quite sure where the character is taking you.

At least that’s what I’m supposed to do, but my analytical brain doesn’t enjoy the ride. It wants to know who is this person? Where is he taking us? Why should we go? What’s the purpose? Shouldn’t we be outside weeding and raking and generally leading a more productive life?

Bottom line? When I’m not writing I’m not happy. It’s part of who I am. Whether or not I write a story worth publication, I do it because I must. Participating in UNH’s MFA program surrounds me with others grappling with similar assaults on their self-confidence. We nudge each other forward, share our rejections, applaud our successes, and despite spending hours alone in a room with imaginary people, we discover real people who’ve got our backs.

Featured short story from UNH MFA candidate Rachel Bullock: Love Birds.

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Posted in Reading and Writing, Self Confidence | Tagged , , | 4 Comments