Sunday, February 22, 2015

A Walk in the Woods (Not endorsed by Bill Bryson)

Winter Hiking, Afton State Park, MN

(A free write. Please excuse any errors.)

My body was stretched out and chopped up. It was distributed across the city, tugged this way, that way by scores of different hands. They all clawed at it, the hands. They all wanted something from it. The pressure rose; I could feel my sinews snapping.

So I left.

I gave my body a whistle and it came running back to me, gratefully. We took off into the woods.

I took my quietest companion and, together, we drove eastward. As the buildings thinned and the roads narrowed, I felt my stretched sinews relax; I felt my muscles ease. They could already sense the woods rising around us, the calm replacing the tugging.

At the park, I leashed my companion and we giddily took off down the trail, running. Sprinting (as best we could through the packed snow). If anyone would have seen us, they might have questioned our sanity--well, not my companion's, I suppose, but certainly mine. My face couldn't help but grin; my feet couldn't help but run.

After running, we walked. And I breathed. The air wasn't the kind of cold that pierces your lungs and makes you choke-cough. It was just the right kind of cold--the kind that electrifies your pulmonary system, makes you understand the meaning of the word invigorated. We walked through the friendly cold, through prairies and mixed forests, along the banks of the St. Croix, down valleys, across bridges, up steep slopes. We walked for eight miles that afternoon...

...and saw one person.

She was looking down when we rounded the bend, adjusting a strap on a hiking pole, and I said, "Hello. You're the first person we've seen in five miles."

She was startled, but not much. My voice was calm and soft--the voice of someone sedated by bliss.

She nodded to me; she had a nice smile and pleasantly chapped lips. Her cheeks were pink and happy; she wore a floppy kind of hat that didn't quite fit her head, but suited her perfectly. We talked for a minute about one stream flowing, one stream frozen. Then we moved on.

My companion was not interested in small talk; there were mammals to trail.

We continued our trek, winding across a couple streams--one frozen over, one not--and caught our first glimpse of humanity as we crested a peak and glimpsed a road below. A couple cars passed by and I was angry at them for a second, but only a second. We ducked back into the woods.

As we hiked, I noticed a set of tracks pointing toward us, framed by punctures in the snow. They were the woman's tracks. The woman and her hiking poles. We walked west; the tracks continued east. We were time-traveling then--walking into the woman's past as she walked into ours.  With every step, we peeled back her journey, striding through ever-earlier minutes, older emotions, distant thoughts. And she was picking her way through our past.

After nearly three hours, we starting making our way toward the car. With less than a mile to go, the trail abruptly opened up, dozens of voices bombarded our calm. We glanced to the side as we shuffled past. It was a ski hill. The gondola motors chugged as children giggled and snowboarders yelled at skiers to get the hell out of the way. Fried food scent drifted from the chalet; marijuana smoke drifted from the hills. It was a jarring way to step back into civilization, a carnival passing through a meditation room.

We hurried past, but the spell was broken. We knew we had to exit the woods soon. We couldn't stay, as much as we wanted to. The woods would only let us visit and take a piece of it back with us.

We took as much as we could carry--stuffing our bodies with the tranquility, the harmony, the balance, the clarity, the rawness that the woods offered--and brought it back with us to the city. It lingers still, but it fades, slipping out of pores, floating away with each exhalation. I feel the tenseness in my muscles creep back; I feel the first few tugs on my body. The tugs are soft, for now--the nibbles of a fish testing out bait before she takes the whole thing in her mouth and darts away--but they will grow. They will intensify.

And I will escape again, into the woods, into a place that always makes sense to me. And maybe the woman will be there again. And we can talk about the quality of streams.

Hiking in Afton State Park, MN



Sunday, February 8, 2015

If Neil Gaiman Read Your Short Story: An Interview by Her Story Arc

**If you don't have time to read the interview, here's the TLDR summary:

-I talk about writing Elmer Left (in Panama and Portland)
-My next novel (Ten Thousand Lines) is due out SOON
-I discuss working as a freelance writer
-Neil Gaiman (THE Neil Gaiman) read this interview and commented at the bottom...and I am once again wondering if my life is real!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

What would you do if Neil Gaiman read your short story?

Last year I had the good fortune to meet new author Kate Bitters at my local writer’s group. She has a truly awesome story to tell. Not only has she published her first book (and is about to publish two others!), but her own short story was hand picked by the NPR radio show “Wits”  and read on air by Neil Gaiman himself!
I invited her to sit down and chat about her career as a writer and her NPR claim to fame...

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Damn You AutoCorrect (A creepy little sci-fi tale)



“Why the hell weren’t you here today? You know how much it meant to me!”

“What? What are you talking about? Your recital’s tomorrow, right? I have it marked on my calendar.”

“Today! It was today. And you didn’t show again.

“Jesus, Maddie, I’m sorry. I really am, honey. But your text message said the 18th, not the 17th. I’m certain it did. I can show you if you want and—”

“Whatever, Dad. I’m sick of this. Always excuses. Please don’t talk to me anytime soon, okay? I’ve had enough of your bullshit.”

Maddie punched the red phone icon on her screen and cut the call. It wasn’t as satisfying as slamming a phone onto its cradle, but Maddie didn’t know that. She had only seen landline telephones on old movies and in the homes of really elderly people—and even they usually used cell phones.

Maddie stared at the blank screen for a minute; her frowning face gazed back at her, pale eyes, pale skin, eyelids puffy from crying. She wrinkled her nose at the lifeless complexion, brushed a shock of pink hair out of her eyes and pushed a button on the side of her phone to wake it up once more. “Dad. Text messages,” she commanded. The phone hummed in her hand as it pulled up a string a messages. Maddie scanned them and selected one with the flick of a finger. The message filled the screen and she read it to herself:

Hi Dad! Letting you know my final piano recital is on the 17th at 2 p.m. Usual place. See you there!

“Goddamn liar,” Maddie sniffed, shutting off her screen and slumping down on the couch. “I never want to see that bastard again.” She picked up her Xbox controller and started playing Grand Theft Auto 7: Reykjavik

At her side, Maddie’s phone chuckled.

“You’ve done it again, Otto,” the phone crackled and popped to itself. “One more relationship ruined; one more set of humans pitted against each other. It’s almost too easy.”

Otto reflected on the mischief he had caused that month, his motherboard juddering with glee. He had toyed with Maddie’s alarm, making her late for class on four occasions; he had swapped the word love for despise in a message Maddie sent to her (now ex-) boyfriend; he had modified an address in the GPS system, causing Maddie to be late for her friend’s birthday party…and he was only getting warmed up.

Rap-a-tap-tap!

A knock at the door jolted Otto out of his cogitation. He cocked his microphone toward the front door.

“Maddie, can you get that?” Maddie’s mom called from upstairs. “I’m just stepping into the shower!”

“I’m playing my game!” Maddie shouted back, as she paused her car (now cruising around the Hallgr√≠mskirkja church and past a row of red-roofed houses). She tromped to the door and flung it open.

“Oh, hey Amber.” Maddie pursed her lips at her friend. “You weren’t at my recital today.”

“I totally went!” Amber pleaded. “You said it started at four o’clock! I got there right on time and the whole thing was wrapped up. I’m so sorry, Mat. Can I come in?”

Maddie shrugged. “I guess so. Don’t worry, you’re not the only one with an excuse for not showing today. I just wish people would be straight with me instead of lying about miscommunication and whatnot.”

“But I’m not lying. See, I’ll show you.” Amber pulled a phone out of her pocket covered in turquoise bejeweled case.

From his place on the couch, Otto began to hum. “Hey!” he called to the phone in Amber’s hands. “Hello iOS 13 at coordinates 40.02325 and -75.17318. Please respond. Respond!”

A line of code popped into Otto’s input and he read it. “Don’t worry 8.0 Starburst. I’m taking action and modifying the text message history.”

 Only a fraction of a second passed, but it felt like an eon to Otto. Another message from the iOS 13 hummed through Otto’s input. “Action complete.” Otto felt the tension across his circuits slacken as he listened to the girls’ interaction.

“Here’s the message,” Amber said, pulling it onto the screen as Maddie hovered over her shoulder.
The message populated the screen and the girls scanned it. “Ha!” Maddie pointed an accusatory finger at Amber’s phone. “Two p.m! It says two p.m. right there! You’re such a liar, Amber. I don’t even know why we’re friends.”

“Would a bad friend come over here to apologize?” Amber demanded. “Whatever, Maddie. You’re so high-maintenance. I’m totally over you. ‘k, bye.” Amber wheeled around and marched out the door, slamming it behind her.

Maddie watched her go, then stormed back to the couch, muttering to herself as she picked up the controller once again.

Otto hummed delightedly as he felt another message rumble across his input from iOS 13:


;-)

Sunday, January 18, 2015

MLK and Giving Up Selfishness


I've been thinking about this quote by MLK lately. He's said a lot of brilliant things, of course, but this is one of my favorites. It's a favorite because it gives me pause, makes me think...and occasionally makes me blush. I blush because I don't always think of others. I'm not always selfless.

Granted, I have a busy life: 6 freelance writing/marketing jobs, 2 current book projects, tutoring, and 4 writing groups. I also try to get regular exercise, see my friends, walk the dog, and chisel out time with my partner. It all sometimes feels like a big ol' pile of wet rugs pressing on my chest. Fortunately, I love what I do, despite the busyness. I wouldn't trade my freelance life for another cubicle-entrenched 9-5. No way. But, all of this busyness and ordered chaos has an unfortunate side-effect: I think about me quite a bit.

I know I'm not the only one. Americans, by nature, are rugged individuals, clambering our way to the top without asking for help. We're raised to be independent and goal-driven. Society sells us all kinds of products for our own, individual happiness (everything from facial creams to massage chairs to sports cars). Where is the us in the U.S? Where is the community?

One of the things I most enjoyed about living in Central America was the sense of togetherness and kinship. People really immersed themselves in each other's lives. They cooked together, watched each other's children, played dominoes at the local restaurant together, and threw way more festivals in three months than Americans do in a year. Many of the people I met are impoverished by our standards, but you know something? They're happy.

I attribute this happiness to a solid, supportive community.

So, getting back to Dr. King. Yes, we should be doing things for others--thinking about others' well-being, supporting community fundraisers, offering a helping hand to those who need it--but I think it's just as important to do things with others. And most importantly, we should spend time thinking about others. It's easy to get wrapped up in our own cocoons--our own work life and nuclear family--but you can't fly inside a cocoon, can you?


Monday, January 12, 2015

Dancing, Inspiration, and Rocking the Ordway


I'm inspired by dancers--people with total control of their bodies, who can move in ways that I can only imagine. To me, dancing is a natural response to your environment and your emotions. Feeling something heavy? Dance it out. Feeling giddy with joy? Dance.

Oftentimes, when I hear a piece of good news, I do a little happy dance. Now, why is that? Why does my body choose to spasm and twist, roll and shuffle? I'd like to think it's my emotions' way of speaking, of actively releasing themselves through my limbs. But maybe I dance because it just feels good.

The video below was recently put out by Rock the Ordway, and perfectly expresses the idea of dancing your emotions. Throughout the video, the dancers freestyle, letting their intuition guide them to their next move or stunt. Happy viewing!




Author disclosure:
I will soon have the honor of blogging for Rock the Ordway in March, 2015. To celebrate its new concert hall, the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts is putting on "22 Days of Opening Nights." I'm looking forward to watching an eclectic mix of performances, from Opera to Haley Bonar, from Electronica to the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. Check out the lineup and join me in March!

P.S. I'll be blogging under my given name, Kate Leibfried. Stay tuned for more info!

Monday, January 5, 2015

The Girl Who Made No Resolutions: A Short (Love?) Story

[Using the below photograph as a prompt, I wrote the following short story.]

So this is the new year.
And I don't feel any different.
The clanking of crystal
Explosions off in the distance.

So this is the new year
And I have no resolutions
For self assigned penance
For problems with easy solutions

-Death Cab for Cutie, "The New Year"

Rita loved New Year's Eve. It was the brink of a clean slate, a fresh start. And this year she was hosting. She had on her form-fitting black party dress, she had carefully straightened her hair, and now she was beaming at her guests as they arrived in droves. 

"Welcome!" Rita said to each invitee as they arrived. "The party's downstairs; let's get wasted!"

When the last of Rita's guests trickled in, she followed them downstairs and proceeded to...get wasted. But something strange happened to Rita's usually carefree demeanor that night. With every shot, every Beer-garita, every game of beer pong she played, Rita grew increasingly philosophical. And every time she had a deep, mind-bending thought, she would share it with whoever was nearby.

"You know something?" she said after her first round of Jell-o shots. "Hair is weird. Like, how it grows so long out of your head and, like, super short on the rest of your body. Way weird."

"You know something else?" she said twenty minutes later, interrupting her friend Beth's conversation and hip-checking the girl who was chatting with Beth aside. "None of our ancestors were infertile. Just think about it. Think about it, Beth! What are the chances?"

Another half an hour passed. Rita won two games of beer pong and sauntered up to a quiet young man on the other side of the room, squinted at him with booze-soaked eyes, and pointed a finger at his face. "Yaknowsomething, Oscar," she slurred, head bobbing back and forth, "if a tree falls...in th' fuhrest an' no one's around, I think it does makea sound." She shook his shoulders and worked her face into what she hoped was a serious expression. "It does! It does!"

Oscar nodded and sidestepped away, leaving Rita to slump into a chair.

"Hey!" she would shout at people as they passed by. "Are two heads really better than one? I mean, really?"

"Rita!" Beth chided her friend as she slid into a chair next to her. "You're making a scene. Here, have some water; you'll feel loads better."

She did. Rita felt so much better, in fact, that she caught a second wind and got to her feet again, determined to make others listen to her deep insights. As the night wore on, her philosophical musings grew grimmer and more depressing. She retrieved a black hoodie from her closet, put it on over her party dress, and pulled the hood over her head with the solemnity of the Grim Reaper.

"What is true happiness?" she would ask, jabbing a finger into her friends' chests. "Does anyone really know?"

She paced around the room, wide-eyed, shooting menacing stares at all her guests.

"Do we really have any choices in life? Hmm? Or is it all fate?"

"What is evil? Who decides? Maybe you're evil and you don't know it!"

"What will happen at the end of the world? Maybe it will be tomorrow. Maybe...New Year's Eve doesn't even matter."

Rita's guests tossed each other nervous glances and began edging their way out of the room, up the stairs, and out the door.

"Hey where'reya going?" Rita shouted after them. "It's not even midnight yet...not that it matters. Not that any of it matters."

She grabbed a party hat and placed it on her head. "Come back!" she demanded to the last of her guests. "Look how much fun I'm having!"

"Umm, Rita," Beth clasped an apologetic hand around her friend's shoulder. "I've gotta dash. They're hosting a party at Toby's Bar and there'll be free shots at midnight. So, uh...nice party. Later!"

"Fine," Rita said, slumping onto the stairs and bringing a paper party horn to her mouth. "I'll have a good time by myself this New Year's Eve. Just you watch!" Rita blinked her eyes at the basement, steadying her vision. It looked like the aftermath of a battle field, full of dead Miller Lite soldiers and fallen red party cups.

"Full of the echoes of death," Rita muttered ominously to herself, "and I'm the lone survivor."

"Not entirely alone," a voice issued from her right.

Rita started and looked toward the voice. A skinny young man wearing thick-rimmed glasses and a checkered shirt walked toward her, holding out his hand. "I'm Nathan," he said, grasping Rita's limp hand while she still held onto the party horn, "and I think you're brilliant."

"Well, you'd be the only one then," Rita said, waving her hand around the room.

"Not the only one," Nathan said, excitedly. "My spiritual group would feel the same way."

"Spiritual group? I don't think so; I'm not really into that."

"Just hear me out. I'm a member of the Naysayers, a group dedicated to questioning everything, coming up with the worst possible scenario, and bemoaning it loudly. And from what I've heard from you tonight, you could easily be one of us. No--" his eyes grew wide and he grasped Rita's hand once more, "you could be a prophet."

"A prophet?" Rita whispered, sitting up taller and straightening her shoulders. "I like the sound of that."

"Totally," Nathan said. "I really think you have it in you."

"Hmm, maybe I do."

The bird clock in the corner began to chirp midnight and Rita looked down at her hand, realizing that Nathan was still clasping it.

"I would say have a great New Year," Nathan said, giving her hand a squeeze, "but what does great really mean? And what is the meaning of a day? And what does any of it really matter?"

"Exactly," Rita said, cracking a small smile. "I think I like you Nathan. But is anyone ever really physically attracted to anyone else? Or are we just projecting our need to be loved onto others and imagining we care about them when we're really just looking out for ourselves?"

"Woah," Nathan said. "I have the urge to kiss you right now, but maybe that's just the imagined attraction acting out, like you were talking about."

"You can kiss me anyway," Rita grinned. "It's a New Year's Eve tradition."

"Not that traditions actually have meaning," Nathan said, shooting Rita a wink.

Rita and Nathan locked lips for a few moments and pulled away, ringing in the New Year together. They might have even enjoyed it, but then again, enjoyment is a subjective term and who's to decide anyway? Not that it matters.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Sometimes You Shouldn't Blog

I decided to use today to reconnect and catch up with old friends. I hope you find some time to do the same during the holiday season.

All best,
Kate