Monthly Archives: July 2013

Stories from the Charman Chronicles: Miranda and the Dime Dancing Ghosts

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peace crane  Miranda never told her stories of paradise, never told her stories of death and fire and bombs.  By day she worked, she riveted, she felt the muscles grow in her biceps and shoulders. At night she Dime-Danced, danced with precision to Benny Goodman and Glen Miller and the Andrew Sisters.  She listened to soldiers tell their stories of missing home, of being at war; some fought Germany, others fought Japan-it was all the same to her.  But Miranda never told anyone her stories of paradise or Hell.  Every Thursday, Friday and Saturday from eight until midnight,  she worked, danced, listened and smiled through a mist of gin and loneliness.  She could not see through that veil of grief, the men she danced with were ghosts, they were nothing but a blur and a murmer; one dime at a  time.

For three years she lived like this: work, build arm and leg muscle, try to get so exhausted  that the nightmares weren’t as bad, drink gin, don’t think. don’t dream, don’t remember Pearl Harbor.

Miranda paused to rest between dances towards the end of her shift one Saturday night.  She looked up as a new ghost stood before her.

“Shall we?”  he asked.

Miranda smiled, the men tipped better when you smiled, but she could not see him through the mist.   He did not grab her hand or hold her too close.

“Where’re you from soldier?” she asked as he handed her a quarter.

“Pasadena”  he replied calmly and shook his head at the change she offered him.

Miranda  glided him out to the dance floor.   She smiled at her ghost and waited for his story, there was always a story.

“Miranda, don’t you know me?”  he asked.

“Strange that he knows my real name,”  she thought, but she replied:

“Why, yes, hello there.  Good to see…”  Miranda always pretended to recognize return clients. it made them tip better.  but he cut her off.

“Miranda, I’m Echart, Bernard Echart; you work with Paula on my production team, We’ve met several times!”

Unlike the others, his voice broke through the gin and swing music. She felt her face grow hot, she never paid attention to anyone at work but Paula, they were riveting partners, they relied on each other.  Manners, a longtime ago she had good manners.  Echart, she remembered now, one of the designers…

“Mr Echart,” She stammered, I apologize sir…”

“Understandable,” he said, “we’re both out of context here.”

For some reason his wry humor made her laugh slightly, she hadn’t laughed in three years. They danced quietly, he didn’t talk about himself he just hummed quietly to “Moonlight Serenade”. Then the lights went up and the Chaperons began to herd the men out of the dance hall.

“Thank you,” he said.  “Perhaps you’ll have room on your dance card next Saturday, hmm?”  He turned and left. She watched him go; a tall quiet man who made her laugh, ever so slightly.

Sunday morning found Miranda on the Santa Monica Beach. She hadn’t been to the beach once since she moved back to Los Angeles from Honolulu. She took her sketch book out of her purse,  it was unused, she hadn’t drawn or painted since she lost her husband Alec. Miranda was one of the first American widows of WWII and she sat in the sand and remembered Lieutenant Alec Colten, her soul mate, she remembered selling her still-life paintings of tropical flowers in Honolulu, she remembered bombs and fire and death, and yet she did not die to do so, A shadow memory of drinking herself into oblivion, her parents bringing her back to L.A. But then she remembered love and paradise and her life with Alec. Then she also remembered her best friend Taiko: whose entire family was sent to an internment camp. Taiko, clever with her hands, once showed Miranda how to do origami. Miranda tore a page from her sketch book and folded and remembered friends and love and paradise. She got up and placed a small white paper crane into the surf and watched it float away:

“Alec,” she whispered, “I remember you” and she turned to go home.

That night, for the first time in three years, Miranda did not drink a tall glass of gin. And yet as the world become more clear, she did not die of grief.

Saturday night again, the men were as usual, despite her new sobriety, ghosts. But as before a man walked up to her to claim the last dance:

“Hello Miranda” said Bernard Echart, “Remember me?”

Something in his voice broke through, his face, she remembered…

“Yes, I remember now,” she did not smile or pretend as she glided them both out to the dance floor. Bernard moved closer to whisper in her ear. Miranda was used to it, the men did that all the time, she had her elusive replies at the ready but what Bernard said caught her off guard:

“What’s your story Miranda?” he asked.

She looked up at him. She had his full attention, she saw him; it was as if he was listening with his eyes.

“It’s OK,” he said simply, “you can tell me.”

The mist and muffle cleared. He was no longer a ghost and neither was she.

Miranda looked into Bernard Echart’s listening eyes and told him her story of paradise and hell.

*Miranda is the mother of one of the main characters in the CharMan Chronicles series. Traveling back in time we see how the young people of the 1960s were impacted by the experience their parents had during WWII.

Transition Meditation: In celebration of Art Not Terminal Gallery’s “Woman Speak”

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With in me I hold close a light.  A power that can never diminish.  I walk in beauty through an inferno: fire in my hair- fire in my veins.  In the cool breath of the present my path is in the NOW.  The moon on the water dances and glimmers.  Yet I am as the moon: a constant light in the dark unknown.  To wax to wane-  change yet I am whole.  Dark moon cycle reborn to the light.  From the source to my mother to me and beyond we pass on a light that can never diminish.  The center of creation in the art of living.  I am only me- I am the universe.  I am reborn in the moment of the constant light of the changing moon.

The original illustration to “Transition Meditation” is now on display in the group exhibition of 40 artists:

“Woman Speak” at the Art Not Terminal Gallery. Opening night July 6 2013 on display though July. 

This poem and illustration were inspired by conversations about Zen, exploring elemental wisdom as it applies to art and by the chemo patients whose heads I covered in healing henna designs.  People ask me how long it takes to do a painting? It takes a life time of experience, conversations and friendships for each composition.

 

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These thoughts are based on the element of air.

Stories from the CharMan Chronicles: A Hopeless Phantom

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Smitty watched his nephew take off over the dunes, that kid was so pigheaded, so…loyal…Just then he saw someone hovering near his campsite, a tall, lean girl.

“Camp robbers”, he thought but his mood darkened, “more jerks trying to get a damned snapshot of me and pass it off as CharMan!”

Smitty had spent two years in the jungles of Vietnam; he was altered now, burnt, ruined but he could still move in close, silent as a ghost…The girl also moved with cat like stealth in a wide arch as she neared the campsite, Smitty watched see her in the fog. Something about her, the notebook she carried, the look on her face: a truth seeker- just like his nephew, Gregory. Gregory, that kid was deaf and dump, but he was the smartest, most eloquent…”Gregory,” Smitty thought, “here it is 1967, how does the world create kids like you?” 

He was right behind the girl now, he stepped on a twig and suddenly she spun around. She stared at his burnt scarred face. He was used to the response: shock, repulsion, fear, but not this girl, she looked him right in the eye froze in a fighting position. So brave, then she looked past his scars and looked him in the eyes. How does the world make kids like this? His heart, his scared heart softened:

“What’s the matter kid are you lost?”

Again, she looked right into his face, straight in the eye:

“No,” she said,  “I came up from the Fairgrounds,” she lowered her fists, “I’m meeting several of my friends for a party.” But Smitty knew a tall tale when he heard one:

“Oh indeed,” he liked her spunk, “One might get the impression that you where spying on me!”

“Sir, I…”The girl sighed:”I thought you might be CharMan sir.”

“Oh, him,” Smitty said lightly, but a great sense of dread rose in him, this kid had no idea what was out there in the wild. The girl looked down in shame.

“She sees people for what they are, but she has no idea…”

The memory replayed in his mind in a flash: walking through the woods around the campground. Smitty collected firewood like he did every night since he went off the grid.

“Best to be alone, you look like a monster with your burnt skin, best to be alone.”

Smitty heard footsteps; someone was following him in the dense woods. 

He crept forward but it was so dark he stumbled on a tree root. He braced himself on the tree to regain his balance when he saw a terrible sight: a horrible monster right in front of him! Smitty an ex-sergeant in special ops mustered all of his courage, “What are you doing here, what do you want?” 

The monster seemed to reply, but had no voice. Smitty moved closer and his heart sank, his mood as dark as the night: “A camp mirror!” I’m the terrible monster!” He grabbed the mirror to fling it deep into the woods, then froze…He was still being followed. He heard ragged breathing, shuffling foot steps…”Oh God,no!” Something incredibly strong grabbed Smitty from behind. He could smell its breath, horrible like a brunt…Smitty twisted around. He realized his was still clutching the camp mirror, his inanimate tormentor, was now his only weapon against this deadly threat.

Smitty twisted as far as he could and in an attempt to smash the mirror in the face of his attacker and the two faced each other. Smitty thought that he was going to vomit or scream but all he could do was stare: Smitty had thought of himself as ruined monster of a man after the explosion, after he saved his buddy, Gunner, but nothing, nothing was worse than the walking corpse with the burnt out skull and rotted flesh that faced him, nothing was as bad as this. Smitty was face to face with CharMan.

In an attempt to beat at its face and get away, Smitty shoved the camp mirror in CharMan’s face. The pits where eyes once were opened wide, the creature released its grip on Smitty and stared at the mirror. Smitty in his horror just stood there holding the mirror. CharMan stared and then howled in pain and grief and sorrow, a blood curdling cry at the realization that every shred of its humanity had been burnt away ages ago.

Smitty finally got a grip on himself, dropped the mirror and ran, deep into the night to get as far away as he could, but he could never out run that howl, that keening wail of utter hopelessness. In that way CharMan did take Smitty away forever. He’d never been the same since…

Smitty studied this girl, blushing at her own rudeness, holding a notebook behind her back. He didn’t want someone as innocent as her to wander around these deserted beaches alone. She thought he was CharMan, she had no idea: The memory passed in a flash, like it always did: Smitty had it rough but it wasn’t as bad, as horrible as… He smiled slightly. here it was 1967 and the world has kids like this, kids with heart and soul who see people for what they are and that gave Smitty a sense of hope.

“Oh, Him; CharMan,” he chuckled lightly, “I guess there is a resemblance.”

 

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Stories from The CharMan Chronicles, based on characters and events from The CharMan Chronicles