Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Chocolate Truffles for the Human Spirit #3

This short story was published as part of Tellables' July 2019 Box of Chocolates stories centered on miracles, or as I spin it, questioning miracles. Box of Chocolates is an Alexa skill you can install to sample monthly short stories narrated by digital, story-telling chocolatiers . If you have an Alexa device, I recommend you give the Box of Chocolates skill a try.

And if you like the idea of writing delicious, super-short stories (100-400 words) by all means check out the Tellables website for story submission guidelines. 

One Stroke Wonder

My father was the son of a confectioner trained in Germany. Indeed, I was inspired to pursue my career in chocolate craft by my grandfather in spirit and my mother in practice. Still, it was my father who inspired me to be a joyful human being. He was a hands down sports nut and even though I was a bit more artsy fartsy we would watch occasional Eagles and Phillies games together. He would whoop and roar like no tomorrow at each touchdown and run scored for the home team. Yet it was when we played a round of golf that we really bonded as father and son.

The golf outing I remember most vividly was a Spring morning at a nine hole golf course called Woody's just outside Philadelphia. We were celebrating my dad's seventieth birthday with our typical one dollar per hole bet. My dad and I may have been just a couple of hackers, but we took very seriously that potential nine dollar windfall. I was up three dollars when the miracle shot occurred.

The miracle drive happened on hole number eight. It was a gorgeous two hundred yard hole blending nature and landscaping. A sparkling pond jutted halfway across the fairway and the tee itself was elevated, providing a fine view of the rolling hillside. It was on this hole my dad would hit a hole-in-one. Having lost sight of his drive in the sun, we combed through the rough and sand traps for his ball for what seemed like an hour. Pulling my head from a bush I heard my dad guffawing at having found his ball in the hole itself. I stood mouth gaping as he danced like a medicine man around a campfire exclaiming "hole-in-one" like a true believer. We would toast that "miracle hole-in-one" over post golf beers for years to come.

Today, once again, it's my dad's birthday and I stand at that very same hole, hole number eight. With stealth that I've possessed since youth I had snuck onto the course from the adjacent neighborhood, having lost my desire to actually play the game once Dad had passed. Still, for the past seven years it's been my personal ritual to come out at dawn to the miracle green at Woody's. With a grin and a chuckle, I drop a ball into the hole, and remember my father's joyous dancing. Odds are good that today someone else will have a miracle shot at hole number eight.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Chocolate Truffles for the Human Spirit #4

This short story was published as part of Tellables' August 2019 Box of Chocolates stories centered on celebrating women. Box of Chocolates is an Alexa skill you can install to sample monthly short stories narrated by digital, story-telling chocolatiers . If you have an Alexa device, I recommend you give the Box of Chocolates skill a try.

And if you like the idea of writing delicious, super-short stories (100-400 words) by all means check out the Tellables website for story submission guidelines. 

Slainte' Sis!

I know many people choose role models that are famous like Sally Ride or Harriet Tubman, but my role model is my sister, Molly Jenkins. And she kicks ass!

Frankly, all women who find themselves on the single-mother route need to become real-life superheroes. In comparison, Wonder Woman had it easy being born into Amazonian wealth. Even with her weaponized wardrobe she wouldn't last a day working in a rural diner. Like many single-mothers my sister holds two jobs in addition to child-rearing, which is a career unto itself. Still, she somehow manages to keep up with payments on her small, fabricated home in a trailer park in Fort Myers.

To say she is a superhero in my book is an understatement, but after Hurricane Irma hit in 2017, she became a goddess in my mind.

Hurricane Irma hit Fort Myers on a Sunday morning a couple years back. Sis had her hurricane kit ready and prepared to wait it out with Aurora, her toddler daughter. She considered evacuating, cause everyone knows a trailer park is a bowling alley just waiting for the weather gods to throw their tantrums at.

Then the hurricane was downgraded late in the week.  So at worst Molly was expecting to lose electricity for a couple days. In the end she opted to wait it out mainly so she wouldn't miss her shift at the Waffle House Monday morning.

Alas, Irma strengthened to Category Four Sunday morning, and the trailer park began to flood. The winds whistled outside as Molly kept an eye on Aurora playing with K'nex inside their double-wide. A shattering crash startled them both and Molly rushed to the door.

Six inches of water slid past the front stoop as Molly gingerly stepped down to assess the situation. The flooding threatened to turn her redneck neighborhood into a flotilla of wannabe arks. A flotsam of recyclables swirled everywhere. Then she spotted her grill knocked over sideways beginning to float away. Molly shook her head then leaped onto her AC unit and managed to lasso the black beast with some clothes-line and secure it to her stoop railing. It was then she noticed the shattered fish tank hung up behind her AC unit. Looking down, she saw her neighbor's red-banded pit viper slither around her ankles.

Never mind that my sister is a superhero and animal lover; she is almost as afraid of snakes as much as I am. As the pit viper wound its way around her sandals, Molly could only stand frozen as wind driven rain whipped by. As the venomous creature climbed her leg in a spiral ascent, she realized it was clearly looking for safety as much as anyone else in this hurricane. Molly held her breath, heart paused at mid-beat, and simply unable to move. Then she heard Aurora behind at the open door call out, Mommy is everything okay?

The thought of her daughter's vulnerability sent a breath into her. Molly willed herself to lean sideways, pushing the trailer door shut to safeguard Aurora and causing her body to deliberately fall into the flowing maelstrom below.

In what seemed like slow motion she fell while reaching down to her thigh and grabbed the viper right behind its neck. Before it had a chance to hiss they both splashed headlong into the swirling, muddy rainwater. The chill shocked her system, but also cooled down the snake's temperature rendering it quite harmless.

Today, my kid sister and fully certified goddess, lives with her daughter in a modest home on the east coast of Florida where she runs her up-and-coming pet care service. In a serpentine helix the words "Nature is cruel, but we don't have to be" now spirals around her arm in wode-blue ink.  As for the pit viper, she donated it to the local nature center where it is cared for to this day. They named it Irma, of course.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Chocolate Truffles for the Human Spirit #2

This short story was published as part of Tellables' June 2019 Box of Chocolates stories centered on summer romance inspired tales. Box of Chocolates is an Alexa skill you can install to sample monthly short stories narrated by digital, story-telling chocolatiers . If you have an Alexa device, I recommend you give the Box of Chocolates skill a try.

And if you like the idea of writing delicious, super-short stories (100-400 words) by all means check out the Tellables website for story submission guidelines. 

Window Shopping

I was arranging chocolate animal minis when I noticed her window shopping. Her graying, curly hair peaked out from beneath a knitted cap. The curiosity of her demeanor bubbled with youth as she inspected my June display of chocolates. When the half moons of her eyes hove into view with a sweet pinch of a smile, I did a double take.

The year was 1990 and I was in London. Jenevieve was her name, though she went by Vivvy. We were friends in the sixth form a year apart and we had one lukewarm date. By total coincidence, we met again at a King's College cricket match just before my graduation. The summer that followed was all that a young romance could be. We hiked in parks, cooked meals together, read poems to each other, and embraced the sexuality of youth with simmering fervor. I for one had fallen in love.

One conversation on the blower in particular returned to me. It concerned cats. Long before Facebook took feline photos viral we discussed in delicious detail their loving and mysterious, yet scheming natures. I think we talked about nothing else for hours.

Sure enough, though, summer’s end came all too soon and Vivvy returned to university to complete her final year. I heard she moved stateside and never heard from her again.

Until now.

Waking from my reverie I saw the display window was now empty. I went to the door and looked around for the woman I was certain was Vivvy. Alas, no one lingered outside the shop anywhere. Then on the window I saw inscribed in violet lipstick the word “Meow” followed by what I assumed was her number.

With an exhale somewhere between a sigh and a chuckle, I wiped the window clean. Memories of youth held little temptation for a happily married man.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Chocolate Truffles for the Human Spirit #1

This short story was published as part of Tellables' May 2019 Box of Chocolates stories centered on Mother's Day recogniton. Box of Chocolates is an Alexa skill you can install to sample monthly short stories narrated by digital, story-telling chocolatiers . If you have an Alexa device, I recommend you give the Box of Chocolates skill a try.

And if you like the idea of writing delicious, super-short stories (100-400 words) by all means check out the Tellables website for story submission guidelines.

The Orange Praline Surprise

The day I remember most fondly about my mom was back in the seventies, long before I pursued a career in chocolates. At the time I must have been ten years old and mom was organizing breakfast for me and my younger brother and sister. I was a devoted student who became anxious anytime I received a B, still I always seemed to be running behind in getting myself out the door to school. The bus stop was only five hundred feet away from the house, but I always seemed to be running to catch it.

Weekday mornings were cereal breakfasts. This morning was typical and raisin bran, cheerios and cocoa pebbles were on the menu. I preferred a mix of all three. Mom was in charge of pouring the milk to ensure we weren’t dawdling. I had my face buried in a puzzle on the back of the cocoa pebbles, so it was quite the surprise when orange juice plunged into my bowl disrupting the perfect mix of sugar-infused, processed grain.

I protested quite animatedly that my mom had visited injustice on my cereal bowl. My brother and sister laughed hysterically. Mom only smirked. In all honesty I don’t recall if I ate the bowl as is or created a new one from scratch. What I do know is for years I poked fun at my mom for making the mix-up, and she consistently groans sarcastically about how ill treated we kids were. It only occurred to me today that maybe the mix-up was intentional, a morning message to her eldest, most serious son to lighten up.

Here’s to hoping I did!

Monday, June 24, 2019

The Emergence of Story

The evidence is overwhelming that complex systems have arisen through natural means from simpler material states over the past 14 billion years. The self-sorting processes that drove this over-arching evolution required only inherent properties of matter and energy and sufficient time to mix and emerge. 

As such, sub-atomic particles formed atoms formed simple molecules formed complex molecules formed star systems within galactic systems with intergalactic webs. At least once the complex molecules formed organic coding chemistry formed biological life formed animal sentience formed human sapiency formed planetary civilization. 

The proliferation of ordered phenomenon gave us the universe as we now know it. To be sure mysteries abound for scientists and philosophers to puzzle over, but the necssary framework of our world is explainable without need of anything supernatural. And yet stories of overlord deities, black and white magic, and ancient a priori ethical principles abound. Why have these irrational ideas flourished in an era of scientific understanding? Perhaps because stories are the ultimate controlled substance, a quintessential opiate of the mind. 

One might say the true indicator of sapiency is our ability to imagine, create and share stories. Whether of memetic through epic levels, by wielding the abstract idea we are able to pass facts, fiction, and concoctions of both out to others and into the future. These stories intrigue, entertain and influence individuals, groups and entire societies with subtle and direct motifs. 

Story exposition is indeed a kind of magic, a magic that encodes truth and lies to imagine improbable and impossible solutions and scenarios that might just shed a glimmer of insight onto reality.  Sometimes, fictional stories can actually motivate better than their factual counterparts: fairy tales that encourage child safety; dreamy afterlives that give promise of reuniting with loved ones; exciting science-fantasy that inspires us to dream of consistent justice, clean energy and a stable global environment.

One might go so far as to say every thought we possess has its own underlying story or a connection to the wider fabric of stories that humans have woven since campfire tales immemorial.

Still, we must strive to separate fiction from fact in the stories we share, if only to keep ourselves sane. For the unchecked tale can lead people astray, putting true believers themselves and the larger population and ecosystem at risk as well. 

Nevertheless, the emergence of story in the human consciousness has surely accelerated if not permitted outright the rise of humanity on Earth. If our species uses the power of story wisely it can help us harness the best possibilities of reality so that we may coexist and thrive alongside nature. If we wield story with hapless abandon, we risk not only downfall of humanity but also of the living ecosystems we inhabit.

Then again, artificial intelligence may be waiting in the wings, ready to emerge and thrive as the next iteration of complexity.

Friday, May 3, 2019

Third Eye Open

Meditation. It is often associated with eastern religions like Buddhism, but in recent years mindfulness meditation has gone mainstream. The basic idea is to set aside a relaxing period of time to turn your attention inward and observe the very essence of being. At the simplest level of mindfulness practice you need only close your eyes and focus on your natural breathing rhythm, usually in the form of the tickle of airflow coming in and out your nostrils. Meditation is not a time for contemplation, in fact, you'll want to allow any palpable thoughts that do arise to pass in and out of focus. In this way your meditation can achieve a kind of mindful steady state of near nothingness. 

Apps and podcasts abound which can provide guided meditations if you're interested in pursuing this further. Such meditation may very well provide benefits (as with other forms of relaxation) from alleviating stress and refreshing your mind so that you can pursue life outside of meditation with greater verve.

You might also find meditative exercise a unique exploration, and adventure within your personal mindscape where you can brush up against the core insubstantiality of existence. In a sense, meditative practice can also be turned toward joyful entertainment.

Separate from my standard meditations, I occasionally enjoy pursuing a internal visual experience using a similar technique. I still find a quiet place and close my eyes, but instead of focusing on breath, I focus on visual sensation. That is to say I pay special attention to whatever my visual cortex generates while eyes are closed to visual stimuli. In practice, this experience usually starts with a grayish black backdrop mottled with slightly brighter swirls, streaks and spots. I then give all my attention to that array as it morphs in real time. I find if I give greatest attention to a bright area it can amplify and move substantially. The resulting visuals can be quite amazing.

In some of my sessions the backdrop has taken on an analog pixelated nature akin to a star cluster. The faux stars might slowly shift then rapidly swarm in ever more complex patterns, like an abstract cloud of locust. Sometimes I attempt to guide the experience toward a particular color that I note and that artifact might swell into a supernova of brightness. Other times, quite randomly, a high definition image will appear for an instant and then disappear into an impressionist's gray-scale rendition of white noise. Rarely, an image can even self-animate, and I watch with as much detachment as possible so as not to end the experience prematurely.

These experiences are accomplished without any drugs or alcohol. Personally, I find these internal visual meditations quite interesting, as they are very different from recalling a picture or event from memory. In those everyday recollections, the visual is generally quite washed out and abstract in nature; at best a translucent visual overlay.  When I recall a friend's face, an exotic location, or an experience, the mental imagery is adequate to discuss it in detail, but still lacks the vividness of present moment observations this meditative technique creates.

In the end, should you find yourself with some downtime, consider trying out this visual exercise or full blown mindfulness meditation for yourself. For me it has provided an intriguing, calming way to shut out the external, and often chaotic world, for a short while. It isn't necessarily easy to push away the rapid fire of thoughts our modern brains are trained for; still, meditation can provide a unique path to start the day fresh or to end the day with a fun exercise.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Mitigating Deep Impacts

As I prepare to head off traveling for pleasure, research has been at the forefront of my effort to ensure timely flights, lodging and activities. Focused on upcoming adventures its rather easy for me to ignore the implicit impact of my trip on the environment. Sadly, the foundational credo of contemporary consumerism is to consume without considering these factors.

Importantly, we live in an age where climate change is in the process of steamrolling our planet. The global effort underway to counteract that planet changing force is minimal at best, and every creature and ecosystem (and future generations thereof) on the planet will suffer the consequences. But what can I do?

The most effective thing one can do is reduce ones environmental footprint where possible, both in everyday life and in on adventures beyond! Minimizing fossil fuel use, biking and walking when possible, eating more sustainably, choosing solar and wind power, and in general consuming less of the industrial world's output is a good place to start. In aggregate, the human population putting this reductions in effect can make a major difference.

Still, we all want to pursue rewarding activities to have a fulfilling life, which at times requires using imperfect resources. Still, we can optimize the ethicality of our choices with a little additional effort and a charitable mindset. To start with one can plan low impact eco-travel like backpacking, or taking trips close to home which require low resource use. Getting away from the ones daily routine need not be a jet-setting itinerary.

If we do choose to fly to exotic places, we can consider financially offsetting the additional impact. To that ends there are many carbon footprint calculators out there. Here is one by Conservation International I found straightforward which I used to estimate my annual impact at about 18 tons of CO2. Surprisingly, my annual flight impact is a significant percentage of that total.

One would hope responsible airlines would be required to include carbon offsets in their ticket price; alas, in the current free market it is voluntary and thus rare. Perhaps, that will change, at least one can take responsibility into ones own hands buy purchasing an offset from a certified program such as these. These programs support projects (with verification) that counter climate changing behavior by preserving oxygen producing forests, reducing developing world fossil fuel use, and the like.

For me, my annual impact can be offset for a couple hundred dollars, about twenty dollars for my flight itineraries. Indeed, this is not a painless action for me or anyone who maintains a lean budget. It can feel like you're burning money when this is entirely voluntary. On the other hand, if you consider your offsets as part of your annual charitable donation toward an under-served cause, these contributions become part of anticipated and responsible travel expenses.

In a better regulated marketplace the cost of maintaining a sustainable global environment would be included in the costs of products and activities in which we participate. Perhaps one day national and international leadership will incorporate those policy changes; in the meantime, making carbon offset purchases on our own in our travel as we are able is one step down the honorable path in environmental conservation.