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This week I turn 25.  In two days I will have lived a quarter of a century.  I have lived a fourth of the expected human life.  I could have lived a whole quarter of my life. Or more.  I suppose you don’t really know that bit until the whole thing is over.

It almost two in the morning on a Sunday.  It’s one of those rare, wonderful Sundays when I won’t have to work in the morning.  I’m awake because I can be, and it feels delicious.  I’ll go to church tomorrow, and perhaps I’ll sit by the fountain outside the dark basement classrooms we hold services in and listen to the water fall in on itself while I let the sun tease my cheeks until they blossom into roses.  

It always amazes me when I’m alone out there.  Occasionally someone will be sitting at the little tables under the shady umbrellas across the way, and once I watched a mother blow bubbles for her children in the grass nearby.  I’m always alone at the fountain though.  I sit on the smooth marble edge and I let the water run over my hands or across my toes, and I feel the peace settle in my chest.  

That’s what church is to me, that renewal.  I think it’s why I’m still religious.  The services, they put the thoughts there, they fill my soul with the knowledge and healing that allow it to happen.  But it’s that quiet moment with just me and God, that moment of sunshine and silence.  I’m never there for long, time is a difficult thing to sacrifice for me right now, even for peace of mind, even on a Sunday.  But these little stolen moments at the water fountain, bubbling in an empty courtyard, they have become a ritual to me.  

I won’t always be here.  I don’t think I’ll even be here in this place where I go to church in that dark school building basement for very much longer.  But I hope I always have a Sunday fountain.

You know for years now people have been telling me that I’m in a transitory stage of life.  I’ve said it to myself, like it’s a comfort.  The constant change will end, you’ll find relationships that last …the loneliness will be filled.  You’ll forget how hard all of this was.

I’m beginning to think it’s a lie.

That’s not as jaded a statement as it sounds.  I don’t mean that I’ve determined I’ll be lonely forever, though I confess it does feel that way sometimes.  

What I mean is that life is transitory.  The whole thing.  Sometimes we find a quiet place to sit for a while, years even, and we think that we can live on the edge of our sunshine bathed fountains forever.  

Sunday has to end though.  We need Sunday, but we cannot live there.  We would soon run out of things to reflect on, we’d waste away, become a part of the marble we pretend to rest on.  

Monday comes, and we must march on.  Every Monday is the hardest I’ve ever faced, but I never forget how I struggled through the ones that came before this one.  

Do you know it’s a funny truth that everything that brings us the greatest pleasure brings us the greatest pains.  Love is the most obvious example, but as I get older I’m learning it’s true of everything that brings me pleasure.  Like wondering, imagining the future, writing….

But no, I won’t let my thoughts wander down that darker path.  I want to celebrate the quarter century I have lived, to rejoice in the life I’ve had.  I won’t darken this week with fear, speculation…depression.  I will celebrate life, I will celebrate being alive, I will celebrate being young, and I will celebrate the fact that there are a hundred transitory roads spiraling in ghostly trails from me and that I can follow any one of them.  

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Dirt and Tears

The bright rainbow colors swirl together in the wind. The paper pinwheel shakes as the wind tries to take it from its place in the cracked cement.  A little stone angel watches with me as it spins.

I pick the color wheel from its place on the ground and put it in the angel’s hand.  It looks like she is smiling at me.  I look around, and I am smiling too.  There are flowers everywhere, and balloons bob in the air around me.  The sun is warm on my face, the colors are so bright, and the world is beautiful.

The grown-ups are standing next to a giant pile of dirt they dug out from a big hole in the ground.  I pick up some of the flowers lying on the ground, and bring them over to plant in the dirt.

I reach in to dig a hole for the first flower, but a grown-up hand grabs mine and shakes the dirt from it.  I try to pull away, but they won’t let go.  They scoop me up and hug me tight.  They won’t let go.  There are tears all over the grown-up’s face, and red lines in their sad eyes.

I wiggle to get down, but they won’t let me.  They are holding me too tight!  I yell for help, but nobody helps me.  All the grown-ups are looking in the big hole.  They are all crying.  I start to cry too.

Why is everyone so sad?  I want to play.  I want to be happy.

I start to scream.

The grown-up holding me hushes me, and cries even harder.

I stop crying because the grown-ups start to throw flowers onto a big wooden box. They give me a flower too, but I don’t want to throw it.  I feel sad.

The box is shiny.  They lower the big shiny box into the ground.  Some people drop dirt on top of the box.  They are burying the shiny box and the flowers under the black dirt.  It is making everyone sad.  A dark man is talking lots of words I don’t understand.

I feel so sad.  I want to feel happy again.  I look up at my stone angel.  A balloon pops in the air next to it, and the pinwheel falls into the dirt.

The scent of the orange peels scattered across the counter takes me back to mornings in your sunlit kitchen.  The orchard out the glass wall shimmering in the new light still lives in my memory, and grows.  It’s larger now than it ever was. We pick the fruit and snip the leaves together, pruning.  I gather the leaves for art projects. The leathery feel of them, traced with veins, reminds me of your skin, but you were softer.  You laugh when I bring in more leaves than fruit. Your laughter makes me remember.  You laughed whenever grandpa hit his head.  They tell me you laughed at inappropriate jokes.  You laughed and clapped for me when I counted to 100.  I remember you laughing. I remember your smile, your sparkling eyes, and gray curly hair. Yet I can’t remember the sound.  I wish I could remember the sound of you laughing. There is a scent I remember too.  It was the way you always smelled, but I can’t describe it.  Every once in a while I will catch it, in the whiff of a stranger in a market place or on the very edge of sleep as I wake.  It makes me smile. The memory of you always makes me smile.  I remember you every time I see a beautiful quilt or a cow in a dress, hear ‘Three Billy Goats Gruff,’ or sit in the warm shade of the Nest you built for all your buzzards.  “Gratitude and Good Humor.”  That was your epitaph.  I remember that too.  It was the way you lived, and it was the way you died.  It is what you taught me.  I am grateful I got to know you for a time, grandmother.

Inanimate

Horror races down the freeway

Wearing a cloak of ash and flame

Lighting a trail of death and decay.

Hope sings in the morning sunlight,

Draped in dewy warm pastels,

She banishes night with the notes of freedom.

Anger thunders down the stair case,

His body a blend of bruise and scar,

He seeks a victim on whom to release his passion.

Fear whimpers in the moonlight,

Covered with tattered and soiled rags of guilt,

He digs himself an earthy borough, a grave for one still living.

Love glides softly ‘cross the lamp lit bedroom,

Wrapped in a translucent robe of deepest hue,

Whispering to one lost a forgotten memory.

-KristiAnne Atkinson 2013

*These were written in response to a poetry prompt/challenge in a writing book.

The clock ticked softly behind her, taunting her with its methodic plodding.

The tasks were all done.  They had been done for more than an hour.

The shop was empty.  It had been slow all day.  It was a holiday. People didn’t want to shop on the first sunny holiday of the year.  They wanted to play outside, enjoy the sunshine.  She wanted to play outside and enjoy the sunshine.

She needed the work though.  School didn’t come cheap.   Neither did life.   She paid for both on her own now.

She knew by now that the worst part was the waiting.  Stress, problems, tasks, even emergencies—these she could handle.  She thrived on the energy that consumed her time working during the Christmas holidays.  They were long gone now though.  The slow season had begun.  Most of the world was at rest, pausing to bask in the long awaited sunshine.  She couldn’t afford to be.

She picked up a dusting rag and walked around the shop, idly drawing it over the already polished surfaces.   Her eyes darted hopefully to the entrance every few moments, waiting for another customer to come and give her a purpose.

She thought how ironic it was that she spent her “working,” time simply waiting, and all her “free,” time working.  She never minded the work though, only the waiting.

The waiting was the worst part.

She hated to wait.

The stress was killing me.  It was as if monstrous lodestones were chained to every ligament and appendage of my body.  Each morning I awoke reluctantly.  I faced the world with dread.  I forced myself to rise by flinging the lodestones around and off the side of my bed to forcibly drag me from the warmth.  Yet even in sleep I had had no rest. My bed was too small and the lodestones had no place to sit but on my chest.  I told myself I kept them there only out of necessity, but I cuddled them to me in the absence of my lost beloved.  I held them there, so that I wouldn’t be alone. I wouldn’t face the emptiness or the silence.   Under them I couldn’t breathe, but I didn’t care.  The anxiety that my lungs would cave beneath them was constant, but the idea of shedding them was worse.  As I used my heavy burdens to push myself through my daily tasks I constantly flung those lodestone’s into the people around me, leaving hurt and devastation in my path that I never noticed.  I had become a human bulldozer, built of grief, disappointment, and devastation.  No one could turn me off or change my course; no one could reach my controls or turn me about to help me to see what I left in my wake.  I was a machine, an object.  I was a monster.

Why I Write

I believe the human mind, one might even say the human soul, learns best when it is allowed to explore ideals, messages, and knowledge through stories.  Perhaps this is because it allows us to relate, to connect, to experience through the eyes of others what we could not live through ourselves, and to grow through those experiences. Analogies and parables are the methods the Savior himself chose to teach His people.  Fairy tales, fables, even histories, have been used by every people in every generation to live on earth for the same purposes.  We tell stories to inspire, to share knowledge and experience, to breed empathy and understanding, to explore ideas and different perspectives or ways of living, and to help one another—to help ourselves—find purpose, peace, and meaning in life.

This is what interests me about creative writing.  It is the sharing of thoughts and ideals in a way that can not only captivate, but inspire, instruct, or change an audience.  When we write we come to learn far more about ourselves and our own understandings of the world, and we ourselves can often find far deeper meaning in our written words than we at first meant to impart with them.  Creative writing allows the soul to express itself, and to discover itself.  It allows the reader to come along for that journey and to learn by sharing in those stories and experiences.

*Written as a response to the question “Why are you interested in Creative Writing?” for a Creative Writing course taken through BYU.

Burning

As shiftless as the sunshine pouring itself slowly across her bare white shoulders, she sits and waits, to wait and wait. She sits on a chair in the shallows of the lake, but never swims. She never swims. She never learned.
Occasionally she splashes a foot down in the water, wiggling her bare, unpainted toes, just to keep cool. Once, she cupped her hands and brought the fresh water up to cool her sun-warmed shoulders, but they steamed a bit and were soon warm and dry once more. She couldn’t see the point of trying it again, the water lapping up softly over the tops of her toes kept her cool enough.
Taking her eyes from the wavelets rushing around her, and the view of the distant mountains, she turned her face to the sky for a moment and then closed her eyes. She imagined herself there, in the sky, among the gold painted clouds dancing along the intricate patterns of gray, rain spraying from her feet while she laughed at the unknowing surprise of the others, swimming in the lake below her.
The others could swim. They were always swimming…but she never swims. She never learned.
As shiftless as the sunshine she sits to wait, to wait and wait.
The others try to call her in, but she’d rather wait. She has to wait.
Besides, she has her visions of the clouds to fill her mind, the gentle pull of the wind in her hair to lull her into peaceful daydreams…
The source of her shiftless sunshine hides itself behind the distant peaks; the wind begins to tease the waves to more challenging heights. They crash restlessly over her knees, soaking her, and she comes awake with a snap. The others are gone. They are all gone.
Standing, suddenly shivering in the lightless water, she looks up to see the silhouettes of the others, outlined by the last rays of the sinking sun on the clouds at the peak of the mountain, their arms outstretched as they dance. The others swam across the lake. The others climbed the mountain.
She blinks and they are gone. The light is gone.
She is alone, alone and shivering.
She tries to wrap her elbows across her body, trying to hold herself to keep warm and calm her panic.
With a quick gasp of pain she releases herself and stares in horror at the faint phosphorescent glow of her red and raw skin in the darkness. She can see the fading imprints of her hands on her elbows, glowing white like the images of the sun behind her eyes when she closes them.
She is alone, the sun and clouds which filled her dreams are invisible, the world is dark and yet…she is burning.

Running

Running, Running, Running,
To or From? I cannot say.
Fear and Hope combat within me
Daily I’m struggling with their play.
I run from hope and joy and laughter,
I run because I know what comes after.
I run from fear and pain and disaster
I run because I’m stuck in the after.
I run to hope and joy and laughter
I run because I’m stuck in the after.
I run to fear and pain and disaster,
I run because I know what comes after.
Running, Running, Running
To or From? I cannot say.
Fear and Hope combat within me
Daily I’m struggling with their play.

The Little White Monkey

For TraciAnne Atkinson—Thanks for the lesson darling! I love you!

Once upon a time, upon the display hook of an inconsequential zoo salesman, there hung a little white monkey. She was the purest hue of fresh-fallen snow and made of down so soft that people would stop in their tracks to run their hands over her fur and hold her close to exclaim over her extraordinary texture. They would marvel over her tiny black eyes and the clever way her little stuffed hands hung together over the bar of her display hook. Constantly the world proclaimed to her that she was beautiful.
“Here,” they would say to the salesman and to each other, “is a pretty little thing.”
But the little monkey didn’t understand. What did it mean that she was pretty or beautiful?
She was also lonely, because all the other monkeys were brown and they sat upon shelves, packed together to face the world as a family. She was lost, because she had no home except her cold little display hook, and no master other than the cold, unfeeling salesman, who proclaimed her useless because despite her beauty, she did not sell.
Yet this was the world she knew, and she did not know if she wanted to leave it. She wasn’t entirely sure she wanted to be sold. She did not know what it would mean to belong to someone…but sometimes she daydreamed about it.
Because it was the only name she heard for herself day in and day out, beauty soon became her identity. She learned to think herself content, because she had this: (and it was apparently important) she was beautiful.
One sunny day as she hung there, staring into the vast hoards of zoo tourists and wishing that someone might think her lovely enough to keep, a large family with many children came up to the stall in which she was to be sold from. The children ran about exclaiming over the different toys and candies. Their sticky hands grabbed for the brown monkeys on the shelves and the little white monkey decided she should be glad that this particular group of miniature tourists had not noticed her.
As she thought this however, one small girl broke away from the family pack and reached to grab her off her hook.
Reverently her small hands caressed the downy fur of the little white monkey. She hugged the little monkey to her young heart and placed the clasped hands behind her own head.
“Oh how pretty!” commented a small companion of the little white monkeys captor.
“I know,” sighed the little girl adoringly, “I just love her.”
She squeezed the little white monkey tighter.
Inside the little white monkey’s heart a conflict was raging. She knew that if this young one were to take her home she would likely lose her beauty, her value would be decreased. Her fur would become dirty and matted, she would lose her lovely soft texture and she might even lose an eye….but this little girl wanted her, and Oh how she wanted to be wanted!
As she debated in her tiny monkey mind the young girl carried her over to the larger tourists that seemed to be in charge of all the little people.
“Isn’t she pretty Daddy? Look she can hang around your neck like a real monkey! Can I get her? Please, please, please?” A tiny part of the little white monkey thrilled as the girl begged to take her home. She began to give in to the hope.
“I’m sorry sweetheart, but she’s beyond the budget. It wouldn’t be fair if I let you get a souvenir that was more expensive and everyone else had to stay in the budget, and we don’t have enough money to do that anyway. You need to pick something else.”
Sadly the little girl trooped over and hung the little white monkey back on her display hook, but even more sadly the little white monkey thought, “it’s just as well. I really would have been quite ruined in her care and then likely forgotten about and never admired again.”
As she thought this she glanced up to see two large brown eyes focused contemplatively upon her. She was back on her hook being adored again…where she belonged. She preened in forced contentment.
The brown eyes blinked and wandered away.
The rest of that long afternoon the little white monkey hung there, trying to catch the attention of all the passing tourists and to ignore the tiny nagging pinch of loneliness in her chest.
Hours later there suddenly appeared before her a familiar pair of large brown eyes, which seemed to hold a peculiar sort of light. They fascinated the little white monkey and it was a moment before she realized that the owner of the eyes, a very small girl, was reaching out for her.
As the child’s hands wrapped about her and her face lit into a sweet smile, the little white monkey knew. It was finally time. This little child was going to buy her. She was going to be taken to a home. She would belong to someone. Suddenly, she knew she had secretly wanted such a thing for a very long time.
…but the little monkey was torn and confused. Though the brown eyed girl held her gently and seemed to admire her, it was not with the same feeling of desire she had felt when the other young girl had held her earlier. The little white monkey didn’t understand. Didn’t the little brown eyed girl want her? Wouldn’t she love her?
Pulling a small wad of cash from her own tiny pockets, the little brown eyed girl paid the salesman and took the little white monkey back to where her mother was standing. With a gentle smile the brown eyed girls’ mother placed the monkey quietly in her bag and they left the little stand where the little white monkey had hung for so very long.
The little white monkey was crushed. Wasn’t she to be loved and admired even on the very day of her purchase?!
She simmered silently in the confines of her little bag, her heart growing heavier with every jolt and jounce.
Light poured in on her as the bag was opened and she was carefully removed and inspected. The small brown eyed girl placed a sweet little kiss on her nose and giggled before clutching her around the middle and skipping over to show her to a group of laughing little girls.
Only, as they approached the girls, the brown eyed girl singled one of them out by name and told her she had brought her something. The little white monkey realized that she wasn’t being shown, she was being offered. She was a gift.
She looked upon the face of the little girl who had so readily loved her that morning in wonder. She was to be owned by the little one who had so badly wanted her! Her heart jumped in excitement.
But more than excitement filled and warmed her little heart as she realized that she hadn’t been bought by hands that desired and needed, she hadn’t been bought by one who admired her for her fine coat or pure color or shining eyes.
She had been bought out of love as a gift for another.
Today the little white monkey is no longer so white. Her fur has become dirty and matted, and she has lost her lovely soft texture (though luckily still has both her eyes).
However, today she doesn’t care. Today she knows that those are marks that are earned: marks that show how she has been loved and valued as a treasure among treasures. And today she knows that her value never came from her lovely soft white fur, her tiny eyes or even her fun gripping arms. She has been treasured because she represents a sacrifice on the part of a very young girl, a sacrifice of self, a sacrifice made out of pure and perfect love: the love of a friend, a child, and a sister.
Today she knows she is beautiful in spite of all her obvious imperfection, because today again she is a gift of love and a reminder of that which is most beautiful in all the world.