Writing 101 Day #8: Death to adverbs

In a city full of chain cafes, both big and small, I sometimes crave the uniqueness of independent coffee shops. This morning was one such time and in the short window of time before work I found myself walking to imi, one of the only independents in Yeosu.

imi sits in the middle of a block along a busy one way road. The exterior of imi draws the eye, even from a distance. Its warm wood boards contrast against the masses of cold cement shop fronts up and down the street. It beckons you to enter, and so enter you do. Bells whisper your arrival into the open room. Upon first glance one thing is clear: the art of simplicity is at work.

And it is succeeding.

The floor beneath your feet is wood, the boards worn but not old. They are unwaxed, only stained in a warm hue, like sunlight in the late afternoon. The counter, sections of the wall, baseboards and tables are all wood. The white walls are mostly bare except for a bundle of flowers, a couple of antique signs and one framed photograph of flowers. Three bookshelves, short with nice, empty spaces between gatherings of books, sit next to several of the tables. Seven tables are settled around the room. Assorted chairs and couches gather around the tables.  Pillows mimicking cross-stitch patterns rest on the couches. A large counter made from the same warm wood as the floorboards takes up the majority of one wall. Counters at nearby cafes are small, crowded and flooded with merchandise. This counter is equally as crowded, you notice, but it is larger, a true workspace equipped for the creation of exquisite coffee beverages.

As you approach the counter you count six towers sitting along the outer edge: three facing the door, two on the corner and one by the register. The towers are carved from pale wood and hold three glass vessels each. You recognize these as drip coffee systems. You watch the tower by the register. The top glass vessel drips clear, clean water into the middle one which holds coffee grounds. The drip dissipates  into the grounds. At the bottom of this vessel a single drop of coffee makes its way out a coffee-tinted spout into the glass bottle below. The bottle below has many thousand more drops to go before it is full. So elegant, you think. So beautiful. The epitome of stopping to smell the flowers coffee.

The owner looks up from wiping off a mug. He greets you and takes your order, a smile on his face, so welcoming that you feel like a regular here even though you have only visited a handful of times. Order placed, you settle at the round table in the front window to the right of the door. The door is inset from the sidewalk, creating a little nook beside each front window. The front windows stretch from the floor to the grey-blue ceiling. White curtains with lacy bottoms adorn the windows. They are tied back to allow in more sunlight. In the window where you sit there are short shelves on the windowsill. They barely reach your knee when you sit down.  Trinkets dot the shelves: little round glass bottles filled with green coffee beans, grey ceramic teddy bears, a plant in an off-white pot.The antique-looking sign on the wall behind the table reads ‘Coffee..Always Fresh. Always hot. 5¢’.

The rumble of the silver expresso machine overpowers Norah Jones’ quiet voice coming from the speakers on the shelves behind the counter. At the closest table sit two foreigner teachers you have seen around town. Their conversation about family, particularly their fathers, cuts in and out. Two women, middle aged, sit at the table behind them. One is Korean and the other a foreigner. They speak in English, hands clasped on the table top. At first glance you can tell they are church ladies, an air of faithful assurance about them. Snippets of their discussion about religion and marriage drift to you, weaving in with the other conversations in the room. At the back of the room, behind one of the bookshelves, three Korea women gather around a rectangular table. They are  absorbed in the world created by their laughter and high-speed sentences.

Service is slow, but you don’t mind. Care and dedication are poured into each white mug, perfection in each drink. It is worth the wait. The owner doesn’t believe in rushing and so time slows down in imi. You sit back and enjoy the room, the people around you, the sunlight breaking through the clouds to touch your face. When the beverages arrive they are brimming with foam. Your cappuccino is topped with an even layer of cinnamon, your macchiato with a drizzle of caramel. The mugs sit on saucer thrones. A short shallow spoon stamped with ‘CAFE’ escorts each mug. The first sip touches your tongue and time stops completely. You are in the moment, frozen in simplicity. This is what imi is all about.

Writing 101 Day #7: Give and Take

Rise and shine! It’s a lovely day. The sun is even out today. Yay! A nice run in the woods sounds good. Try that new trail.  In a bit.

Stumble from bed to the kitchen table. Turn on computer. Check Facebook.

– Good morning, how are you?

–Good, sleepy.

Yawn. Eyes blurry. Brush away the sleep.

-Did you have a restful night’s sleep?

–Yup.

-And how are you feeling about your body today?

Eyes snap open. Back straight.

–Well, that’s a bit personal, don’t you think?

-Do you feel good about it? You should.

–Um…

-That’s the most important rule to remember. Love your body.

–Right, ok. I’ll keep that in mind.

-Really, check out this inspirational video! She used to be a model and now she looks like this. Best before and after pictures ever, right? She is happier looking like this.

–Wow! That was inspirational. Thank you for sharing.

-Like that? Look at this too! 40 promises every woman should make to her body. Good, right? Especially #29, stop looking for validation or cues in the pages of magazines, or on movie or television screens.

–Good one. Most of that is Photoshopped anyways, right?

-Like in these photographs? Look at how tiny her waist is.

–That is crazy! I can’t beleive-

-Oh, look at this article! How yoga taught me to love my body.

–Um…I never said I hate my body.

Moving on to the weather now. Sunny with a chance of rain tonight. Not bad.

-Wait, look at this. You’ve got to check out how to gain the most benefits from your workout for weight loss.

–I’m not sure losing weight is really in my best interests…

-Perhaps.

–What’s that supposed to mean? Didn’t you just say to love my-

-Why not find out about the one routine guaranteed to make you beautiful?

–I think I’ll just go make a smoothie now.

Beep. Facebook message from Mum.

-A smoothie? How about an organic, vegan, super green smoothie like this one here?

–No, that looks gross, thanks.

-Maybe an alternate to green smoothies?

–I’ll stick to banana mango.

Check the news really fast. See what is happening in the world. More shootings in the US.

-Banana?! First look at this list of 10 foods women should never eat. Might want to think again.

–Erm…no thank you. I like bananas.

-Perhaps this list? 13 foods people think are healthy but actually are terrible for you.

–Really, I just want my smoothie.

Into the kitchen. Blender, fruit, yogurt. All set for breakfast.

Beep. Another message from Mum.

-Oh hey, you’re back. Look what I found while you were gone. 10 superfoods you should be eating weekly. Oh! And 41 powerhouse fruits and vegetables you should eat regularly.

–Wait. Wait…half of these things were just on that list of 10 things women shouldn’t-

-Whoa! Have you seen this? A 21 day bikini body plan.

–A what?!

-Speaking of bikinis, need some tips on getting that body beach ready? Here are 12. Or these ones. How dancers get lean, tone bodies.

–I’ll pass. Really, I’m content with-

-Maybe those sound a bit too intense? How about training like Jennifer Aniston? You could get her body. Like this one of her here!

–That’s probably not real…

-No? Alright then, how about a 5 minute fat blaster?

–I…what?

-A best butt workout?

–No.

Beep. Another message.

-The no diet, no workout prescription for a flatter belly?

–That’s a hoax. I think I’m going to go for a-

-Wait, wait. First, how about these??

5 exercises you should do way more of?

The #1 rule of fitness?

Lose your belly fat with just 2 exercise moves?

9 butt exercises for a super-toned tush?

The ultimate beach body workout?

56 ways to start losing weight today?

–ENOUGH! I am going for a run now and not for my belly. Not for a beach body. Not for a my butt.

-A run? You really need to read this. Should you mix walking into your runs?

–I’m leaving now!

-Wait! Maybe the total body exercise you should master would be-

Windows is shutting down.

Writing 101 #6: Character sketch

Monday morning’s meeting begins in typical fashion- a solid twenty minutes late and commencing with the customary prolonged silence once we were all gathered in the Fox 1 classroom. We sit at the pencil graffitied desks, listening to the air con gurgle into the silence while our eyes rest expectantly on Boss. He sits in a desk at the end of the U shaped configuration, slightly distanced from the rest of us. Across the room sits his wife Jenny, then A, me, the third American teacher at our school named Jai, Coco, and Kay. We sit like this every week.
On this particular Monday, Boss begins not with an announcement of bad news as he usually does, but rather with an inquiry as to how we spent our long weekend. No one particularly enjoys answering his questions, especially first, so after a few seconds delay, A briefly mentions our recent hiking adventure.

Boss asks if we made it to the top.

We didn’t.

“Mmm,” he says.

As of yet, we’ve been unable to really decipher what this noise means besides that our words have entered his awareness. Boss crosses his arms over his polo and looks next to Jai. Every time he wears a short sleeved shirt I am surprised by the lack of hair on his round arms. His arms somehow feel mismatched from his personality.

Jai begins to tell about her weekend seeking sun. Boss watches her, his narrow glasses making him appear to squint, even when his eyes are wide open. The expression on his face is a mask, not of interest or disinterest, but rather of tolerance. It is a look that makes me squirm, for the meaning behind that mask is invisible to me.
We continue down the row until we get to Kay. When she says she stayed home this weekend because her husband had to work and she had to make him dinner, Boss seems to perk up.

“I don’t remember the last time my wife made me dinner,” he says. “For kids, yes. For me, no.”

Our strained titters of laughter try to cut through the instantaneous increase to the normal tension between Boss and Jenny, but to no avail. Jenny, angular in every way that her husband is paunchy, crosses her arms and I can see her gearing up to parry. Despite having given birth to five children, she is still narrow, pointy of both limbs and manner. Digging at people, unearthing them from the stories they tell themselves is one of her specialties.

Boss attempts to brush away our discomfort by turning to business, but Jenny is having none of it.

“I did not tell about my weekend,” she says.

We all smile. In all her snarkiness Jenny is quite funny at times.

“It was horrible,” she continues. “My husband wanted to go camping but he has no reservation.”

It was a holiday weekend and a busy time for travel. Reservations anywhere were pretty much necessary as we found out during our own planning adventure.

“We drove for four hours,” Jenny goes on. “Four. We stop here. No opening. We stop again, no opening. And my children, they begin complaining. ‘Mom, I’m hungry. Mom, I’m tired.’”

Jenny does an amazing impersonation of her whining children. I can’t imagine all seven of them crammed together in their little four-door, five-seat car, let alone the unhappiness from children ages five to thirteen.

“We camp with no water,” Jenny says. “Only a river, but the water, it is not good for drinking. For food we have only beef. And the next day, I go to Seoul, so I walk, walk, walk for an hour and a half back to Yeosu. Cars keep stopping, asking to take me to town. But I walk. One man, he ask two times to take me.”

At this point, Boss unbuttons the top of his polo. He turns to the computer screen facing the room, but I can tell he is still listening, aware of all of us listening to his role as a husband.

“The man, he says to me, ‘I cannot leave you,’ but I just walk, walk, walk,” Jenny says and I can’t help but laugh a little, picturing her speed walking down the highway in the purple blouse she is wearing this morning.

Boss however, isn’t amused. He reaches for the computer mouse and starts into business.

Writing 101 Day #3- writing practice

Yesterday when I sat down to write I just couldn’t figure out what to put on the paper. There are so many songs I love, so many songs that mean something do me. How could I pick? Should I write about Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds? Moloney O’Connell and Keane’s There were Roses? Fun.’s Some Nights? Or a new favorite, Water Fountain by Tune-Yards? Feeling overwhelmed by the choice, unsure of where to start and battling off the grumpies due to a long day at work, I put the prompt aside in favor of my pillow.

I woke up feeling utterly like a crab bucket buried in sunshine. I wanted to smile truly, be joyful and frolic, but the grumpies were holding on with all their might. My mood troubles were alleviated a bit by a long run, but I still wasn’t sure what to write and my spirits were feeling not top notch (though buoyed by a good experience while running). As I was toweling off after my shower I heard A singing ever so quietly while playing chess online, which he often does. For some reason chess opens up his musical mind and songs just come out in scattered words and humming. This morning it was words and they drifted from the dining room table to where I was standing just inside the kitchen.

We might not have any money…but we’ve got our love to pay the bills…hmm mmm mmm…let’s get rich and build our parents’ homes in the south of France…hmm mmm mmm…

Ingrid Michaelson’s You and I. Our song. Immediately my muscles relaxed and a smile melted away the frown. The crabby me sulked away for those few minutes while I basked in the simple joy of those quirky words coming from the man I love. Even sung so quietly and ever so slightly out of tune, it was perfect. A perfect answer to my mood issues and a perfect answer to my prompt dilemma.

 

Writing 101 Day #4- Loss

Late afternoon sunlight filled the street casting a burnt yellow glow over the stillness. In the driveway my little brother, B, and I were working on an epic version of hopscotch, complete with B’s made up rules and a 30 box playing field. B drew out the boxes in varying sizes using mint green chalk. The jagged lines skipped from the smother, newer cement of the driveway closest to the garage and turned to rumpled scratches on the older, chipping part. When the board was drawn, we picked up pieces of loose cement to use as our throwing stones.

B tossed his chip out first. He hopped out to 13, tossed again and made it to 30 before turning around and jumping back. The sun felt warm on my face. I squinted into the light and threw out my flat chip. It bounced and stumbled onto 12. Carefully, I started out following the almost helter-skelter number order B had drawn.

“Mommy and Dad are getting divorced,” he said as I hopped onto 10.

“No they aren’t.”

We’d discussed the matter a few times previously, both right before and after Dad returned from active duty in Pearl Harbor.

“Yes, they are,” B insisted.

My chip landed on 28 this time.

“How do you know?”

B had a tendency to make things up. It was a gift he developed as early as three years old when he tried to convince me that he really was a pterodactyl zipped into a human suit with an invisible zipper.

“I heard them talking last night,” B said.

I stopped hopping and turned around to look at him. “What did they say?”

“I don’t know.”

I crossed my arms. “Then how do you know?”

“They said so.”

“You’re lying,” I informed him. “Stop lying.”

“I’m not!” B threw out his chip.

“Well, I’m asking Mom when she gets home,” I said. “You’re wrong.”

We kept playing, but what B said kept rolling around my head, crashing into the sides of my skull. Mommy and Dad are getting divorced. Divorced. Divorced. Divorced.

The sun was heading for its mountainous bed when Mom came biking up the street. She bumped over the curb and across the hopscotch game we’d abandoned a few minutes before. B looked at me, daring me to prove him wrong and we followed her into the house. Despite the lack of voiced conflict between our parents, the continual tension around them nagged at me. Maybe B was right? The pit in my stomach opened up, ready to swallow my words.

Mom was halfway up the stairs when the words tumbled out into the warm air. “Are you and Dad getting a divorce?”

She turned around to look at us standing by the front door with sunlight surrounding our faces.

“K, B…” she started.

Writing 101, Day 2: A room with a view

The garage door growls shut and gravel crunches under tires as the car pulls out of the driveway. Upstairs the TV is on low. I can just make out the gurgle of cartoon voices over the steady tick of the carved German coo-coo clock on the wall over my head. Gently I drift back to sleep again, snuggled deep in the depths of my dad’s sleeping bag on the couch.
“Auntie. Wake time, Auntie.”
Cold little fingers touch my face. My eyes open slowly. They are heavy with sleep, drowning under the weight of dreams unfinished. They fall shut. The sleeping bag shifts slightly and cool air washes over my legs. My four year old nephew, K, climbs in with me. His pale fingers go to my eyes, trying to help them stay open.
“Morning Auntie,” he says. “Up now.”
He helps me pry my eyes open. The clock above us notes that the hour is 6:23. Dawn has barely made it through the shades over the windows. So much for sleeping in.

Pale yellow sunlight sweeps away morning shadows along the southern facing side of the street. At a red light we stop by a small stone cathedral. It has brilliant red doors and a surrounding wall of yellow brick. The church bell in its stone tower announces eight o’clock. There isn’t another soul in sight. It’s a college town on a Saturday morning and most of its inhabitants have just found their way to bed, their temporarily abandoned cars dotting several parking places ahead of us.
The light turns green and we continue down the street until it ends at the railroad. A yellow engine streaked with greasy black above the wheels rests several tracks away piping thick black clouds into the weak blue sky. I park the car and take out the key. In his car seat K clutches a zip-lock bag full of knights and horses. He looks at me in the rearview mirror.
“I like your shirt Auntie,” he says. “Did you get it at Ross?”
I laugh. His mum works at Ross and he asked the same question of my clogs as we were leaving the house a few minutes earlier.
“Nope, not at Ross,” I tell him. “Should we get out?”
He nods. Cold fall wind brushes our cheeks, cuts through our clothes. The wide sidewalk seems to reflect the sunlight, turning the grey surface dirty white. K grabs my hand. His eyes are wide, alert; mine are still tired, itchy and unwelcoming of the brightness.
“We’re going right here.” I point to a slightly worn, sun-faded green door with a glass window in the center. Wide windows sit to the left of the door behind a faux wooden bench sitting along the sidewalk. A forest of stained-glass frames the windows, leaving the center clear. I can see a man sitting at a large rectangular table in the corner, typing on a laptop.
We step inside. Bells tinkle overhead as the door shuts behind us and K takes in the wonder of the store. To our left is a steep stairwell to the second story where I like to study. The floor beneath our feet is worn wood, more black in some places than brown. Several tables, all dark wood, in varying shapes and sizes are clustered in the sunlight coming through the windows. Mismatched wooden chairs circle the tables. Beyond these, further into the shop, are towers of shelves full of books once read and loved by countless strangers. The shelves are pale wood, pine maybe. Small step-stools wait at the bottom of a few, ready to help with perusal of the higher shelves. Near the back of the shop, thrown into shadows this morning, is the counter with baked goods on display and a giant black board on the wall listing various coffee choices and food delights. The store owner smiles as us and goes into the kitchen.
K and I inhale. The air smells sweet this morning, like muffins or waffles, layered over the steady scent of paper and ink, dusk and coffee. K isn’t sure what to make of this place. His eyes travel to the man in the corner and back to me.
“Where shall we sit?” I ask.
He picks a small round table, shiny and smooth, close to the table where the man sits. I put my bag in a round-backed chair with a wide seat. K climbs onto a straight-backed chair the same color as the bookshelves. He clutches his bag of knights and horses in his hands. I sit down next to him to wait for my mum who is coming to meet us soon. Aside from us and the typing man, there are no other customers.
K and I talk quietly. He takes out a few of his knights and horses, explaining to me their epic battles. Our table neighbor glances over at us, a smile on his face. I can tell that he thinks I am the tired worn out mum of the toe-headed toddler next to me rather than the adoring aunt who is a the fifth year college student weighed down with mountains of homework. I smile back and look out the window for my mum’s car.
The bar across the street, the Buckhorn, already has customers. The regulars are there from opening till close on weekends, some people say. Besides the Buckhorn and the coffee shop none of the other shops are open yet, their storefronts still cast into shadow. It’s early. So early.
Slowly my gaze softens and I can see my reflection staring back at me in the glass. K rides a knight up my arm. He slides off his chair and onto my lap so the knight can reach my head. I watch us in the window reflection, our faces pale and happiness wrapped about us. I smile and get a view of the mum I could be one day, tired but with a full heart.
And I give thanks that this day is not that day.

Writing 101, Day 1: Free Write

Ok, here we go! Woot! A new writing challenge.

To get started, let’s loosen up. Let’s unlock the mind. Today, take twenty minutes to free write. And don’t think about what you’ll write. Just write.

On a day like today, what a person really needs is a nice lamp. The kind that sheds warm, golden light and sends a halo of it over the room. Not like the buzzing metallic florescent ceiling light. Something softer. Something quieter.

With strands of fog clinging to the mountain sides and drops of rain dripping from the eaves, a solid sky of patchwork grey and air heavy with dampness, a lamp and a good book could have a good date. Burrow down in the blankets, the red fuzzy one wrapped all about, sip tea and drift off into the other land of the story. The rain will start again and peter off, but the lead clouds will stay. No sunlight shall pass them by and so a lamp could be those golden rays. Could.

We have no lamp, no warm light to fill the room. They’re in storage an ocean and half a continent away. Only the buzzing florescent overhead is here to light the day, but it lacks warmth. And so, we wander between rooms in the grey of the day, marveling at the drops of water clinging to the windows, letting cool air creep through then and wondering, should we go outside and face the day? No trail runs this morning. They’ve all turned to mud. A run on the street perhaps? Or would yoga inside be better? Maybe I’ll just curl up in bed?

What to do? What to do?

A rainy day dilemma. Oh how I wish I enjoyed such days. But, why shouldn’t I?

Go for a run. Face the rain. It’ll give you sunshine and brush away the weary face of a grey day. Find some beauty in the wet world beyond the door along the be-puddled streets. Marvel at the way the clouds seem to peel away from the sky and drift into the mountain’s arms. Feel the drops of rain sail from bright green leaves onto your face. Listen to the birds calling. Enjoy that cool, cool air on your bare skin. A good book and warm tea will be waiting when you return, bringing with you an internal lamp of sunshine to brighten the room.