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CREATIVE NON-FICTION
--Lingering Longings
--Bound For Bliss
--Generous Strangers
--Hats off to You

Lingering Longings

I stared at my naked reflection and saw his protective hands wrapped around my waist. I turned away from the mirror and shook my head like a wet dog, trying to rid my fickle imagination of the haunting image. I tiptoed to my dresser trying not to wake my wandering mind and threw on an over-sized cotton sweatshirt. The warm fabric cuddled my small frame reminiscently; I shivered and my mind began to drift.

It was a cool evening and his cozy jacket was wrapped around me. I felt the coat brush against me as he rubbed his hands up and down my intertwined arms, melting my chills. I heard the laughter we had shared echo through my skull and I caught a glimpse of the simple security he had brought. Rolling my eyes I mumbled to myself, “It is not him that you want, not after all this time.”

I washed my face with cold water hoping to cleanse myself of the pathetic illusions, then climbed into bed and pulled the covers up over my head. I saw him lying beside me and became dreadfully ill. My forehead was moist and I felt his dry hand push back the hair that was clinging to my damp skin. I sat up abruptly and ripped the covers off my suffocating body. I looked around cautiously and laid back down again. Alone in my double bed, I turned over, moved back and forth, rolled around and kicked my legs like a spoiled toddler. I squeezed my eyes shut, but he stared right back at me.

His soft gaze was filled with innocence and I felt a horrible guilt that I could not avoid. My eyelids flew open and I watched the ceiling spin. I pulled the pillow out from underneath my head and my neck jerked back angrily. I pressed the cushion up against my face and held it there real tight. I clenched my teeth and whispered to myself, “It is not him that you want. It is not him that you want. Its not him…”

Frustrated with the power of my own imagination, I jumped out of bed and stubbed my toe. I lunged across the room and grabbed my sweater and a coat. I stumbled into the kitchen and poured myself a glass of water; beads spilt down my chin as I tried to get the liquid down my dry throat. I felt my right eye twitching. I locked my door, stuffed the key into my pocket and went out to the empty intersection.

The sound of silence was roaring. I laughed out loud and my echo mocked my cry. As I crossed the street I felt his hand grab mine. He led me safely over the dark pavement. I turned around hastily and let the crisp air slap my cheek. Flinging my hand, I shook off the delusional touch. My stomach began to turn and love faded into hate. I was overcome by queasy emotion and distorted perceptions that teased my mental state.

I walked past the lights and around the corner, viciously inhaling my cigarette as I approached his street. I choked on the toxins and imagined him there to ease my pain. The more I thought about him the more I wanted to rip my hair out.

I approached his house and fell desperately numb. I opened his door, quietly letting myself in. Then the image of his gaze stole my mind again; it drove my up the stairs and into his empty bedroom. As I took off my clothes and waited behind the closed door, I was repulsed by my actions and disgusted by my weak-will. The floor creaked and anxiety crawled through my skin.

I awoke to see his protective hands around my waist. I shook my head trying to release the illusions tied tightly to my mind, then realized I was not looking through a mirror anymore. But it wasn’t him that I wanted. No, it wasn’t him.

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Bound

For Bliss

Our bodies swayed together wafting our hearts up to the sky. Arched backs, spines curved like moonbeams. I stretched my arms outward horizontally, creating a wingspan so I could fly. I swirled around. I felt my loose cotton t-shirt billowing outwards to catch a cloud.

Mirrors walled the room. My reflection teased me. I glanced at my tinkle-toed teacher. She leaped through the air, eyes squeezed shut, legs spread wide. She yelped with the music. It was an earthy beat—African Tribal drumming, nature sounds like crashing waves and violent rains, held together with the eerie tones of Dark Side of the Moon—an inspirational harmony.

It was my first experience like it. A new exercise where physical and spiritual meet and explode into interpretive dance. It is called: Nia: Non Impact Aerobics. Its first principle is uninhibited joy. And I was there to see if I was capable of it.

There were only three of us in the class (along with my teacher Sharon):

  1. A middle-aged woman, sun kissed and sporting a wild blonde mane.
  2. An obvious dancer, in her twenties and in spandex. Her long brown hair knotted in a bun, like a crown on her head.
  3. Me. A clumsy university student. My thick hair straying from its braid like I’ve just had electric shock therapy.

My first step into the mirrored space was greeted by the smell of evaporated sweat and patchouli oil. Sharon stretched down to touch her toes humming Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On.” When she saw me she snapped up and skipped over barefooted to welcome me with a hug. I reacted to her hug like she punched me in the face. Wide-eyed, I stepped backwards. But her grin did not fade: a smile so wide I could see her back molars, a smile so permanent just looking at her made my cheek muscles throb.

Her eyes stared blankly over my shoulder, caught on her reflection. A room full of mirrors can make you self-involved or self-loathing. She was self-involved.

She explained the art of Nia. “Listen to your bodies natural call. Exercise your spirit, become weightless.” The words streamed out like they were being transmitted from a higher source. “Find your inner goddess. Find uninhibited joy.” She paused and reflected. Her eyes now straight up, as if looking to God. Then she looked me in the eyes. I looked down at my black painted toenails. “Okay?! Lets have fun!” she chirped cheerfully, with a hop, skip and jump. I stared at the fake-hardwood floors and picked my cuticles, in attempt to keep her from seeing the mockery buried in my grin.

I was the only first-timer in the small class. Sharon was glad to introduce me. She pulled me up to her hip and rested her arm around my shoulder.
“Laura, right?” she asked.
“No, Lauryn.” I corrected her.
“You’re so cute! Lauryn, I like that” she beamed.
“Thanks,” I half grinned with a crooked brow.

Together we stated our intentions for the class: finding joy in every movement. I did not think within the next hour I would be arching my spine like a moonbeam, catching clouds under my oversized, over worn, t-shirt. But after the first round of pelvic thrusts, I adjusted. And by my first karate sidekick, I began to enjoy the place. During the angel dance I pretended to have wings. During the warrior stance I dug my toes into the floor and held my muscles so strong they quivered. During the final meditation I reflected on my intentions. I tried my best. I worked up a sweat, but realized nothing. I pretended to feel the goddess inside of me slowly rising. I tried to pin her down. I wrestled with the fairy flapping around in my belly. I held my eyes shut. My lids twitched to open. 

After class I took my time in the change room. My body moved slowly, my head deep in thought. The mere attempt at “finding joy in every movement” left me both physically and emotionally damaged. I left the building with a heavier load than I brought. Maybe I was not bound for weightless bliss.


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Generous Strangers

His eyes were honey brown, glazed over and half-closed. His skin was worn, aged like thick leather, cooked from the sun. As he spoke broken English thick saliva gathered like clay at the corners of his thin lips. I listened to him speak while clouds of sand whisked through the air searing my skin. He did not seem to notice the dry heat; the sand gathered in his billowing scarf or the increasing wind.

I sat cross-legged like Buddha, braiding my long unruly hair into pigtails. I winced occasionally from the particles of sand caught in the wind that hit my body like waves splashing on shore.

It was my first night in Sinai, Egypt. The desert terrain rippled out backwards behind me in a single stroke of endless beige. The Red Sea rolled out in front of me, a layer of glistening emerald, still as glass. I watched the dry heat hover in a distorting haze between the heavy air and the sand. I listened to the sound of his voice.

I came to know a nomad who had three camels and so he was very rich…

I listened to the tale he struggled to articulate. His words slowly strung together, awkward and honest:

He had a wife, much bread and friends in big places. I brought him a donkey. A wild one I collected from the rocky bank of the sea. And so he gives me shelter and gives me with something warm to eat.

By now I had stayed with several Bedouins throughout Israel, Egypt and Jordan. They never questioned my intentions, always welcomed me barefoot and smiling. They gave me hand-woven blankets, brought me aish (warm flatbread cooked on hot stone), tahina (sesame seed dip) and shessha (flavoured tobacco). I was intrigued by their indifference to change, their lazy lifestyle, their toothless smiles, their endless generosity, open door policy and complacent simplicity. And as long as they could speak to me I was willing to listen.

I sat next to him on a woven straw mat. I inhaled the water pipe he handed me and thanked him as I choked on the black smoke. He eagerly explained the struggle—inherent and inevitable—in his birth, his land, his culture. He anxiously showed me his world and did not seem to wonder why I cared.

I continued on foot for months walked from camp to camp, living off the generosity of strangers. When I reached the city I must have been a year older, but time was not my thought. I thought of the possibility of the city and how I was to make my own way.

I heard the sounds of his words, pictured his journey through the harsh terrain that surrounded me. I saw myself wandering this holy land of golden sand and rolling hills: the Egyptian desert. I felt the presence of my ancestors, my worried mother and a God I wasn’t sure existed. I heard the voices of thousands of strangers, silent for thousands of years—without a microphone their voices unheard.

I kept my eyes on him. I rustled through my hemp rucksack with one hand and took out my camera, my pencil and some crumpled paper. Looking at him I began to jot down details of his story, though he didn’t seem to notice. I saw the contrast in our skin and our heritage as an illusion. I felt my history intertwined with his. We sat together under the scorching sun of that endless terrain. I felt my world slanting and our worlds began to collide.

I attempted to understand the other and by framing him, I placed myself. I set off on my travels with the intention of learning about who I was, who I am. But I wandered farther from what I knew. I learned the other’s voice taught me about my own.

A violent gust of wind sprinkled sand in my eyes. I wrapped my tie-dye pashmina around my head. My nails were crusted in dirt. I blinked profusely instead of rubbing my eyes and I began to tear. He stared at my absurd mannerism, my foreign nature. His nostrils smiled in response. He continued to speak.

The big city was not what I had expected. There was no opportunity for someone like me. I was alone and broke. I had big dreams but little money...

He laughed then paused a moment to reflect. He caught himself discovering things he had not known about his world—a slippery slope once he resigned himself to the truth. I laughed with him in thanks and understanding. I too saw my reflection in his words, in his human tale of unrefined honesty.

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Hats Off to You:
An Autobiographical Sketch

I like hats. Right now im wearing a black messenger cap splattered in colourful flowers.

In the Jewish tradition the colour red is a symbol of protection from the evil eye.  My great grandparents were adamant when it came to their traditions. Every child of their descent had to be brought into their first day of life wearing something red. As my parents carried me home from the hospital my head was kept warm inside a red bonnet. The bonnet was knit by my bubbie (my mom’s mom). It was made out of soft, supple, red wool and held together by a shinny red ribbon; it was worn by my big brother Seth before me, and eventually warmed the head of my little brother Evan. The bonnet was cozy, cute and warded off evil.

I was almost six the day I found out that if I stood on my tippy toes, I could reach the bell that hangs on the outer wall of my grandparent’s cottage. The bell rang loud and clear, resonating from the top of the hill where the country home sat, down the stepping stones that paved their way past the gardens and the boat house, right out to the water front where my cousins played. The cowbell was a communal calling. If the bell was ringing it was time to pack it in, take a lunch break, or call it a day.  I was wearing a purple denim floppy hat, one of my favourites in those days. It had a big rim that cut off my forehead, rested over my eyes and shaded my vision. There was just the perfect amount of bright blue and beige cotton flowers glued to the right side of the dyed denim.  I felt good in that hat and it felt good when I finally rang that bell.

My dad taught me to ski when I was very young. I love the feeling of free falling down the mountain. It is totally liberating—as the wind bites your nose—to glance out at the horizon while swinging past overgrown pines. A hat is a staple on the ski hill. My first ski hat was a long “stalking” hat. It was fleece and oversized with a tail that rested at mid-back. It had a repetitive geometrical pattern and ended with a green tassel. I was always scared the tail was going to get stuck in the chairlift, sucking me back to a fearful fall. So, I stopped wearing that fleece hat. But, one day, I did have a chairlift problem; that is, I fell off of one. I was in eighth grade when I slipped-off and plunged thirty-five feet, unconscious by the time I hit the icy ground. By that day I had been through many different snow hats. Though strangely, the hat I put on the morning of the fall, I had never worn before. It was a Pepto-Bismol pink, woven and worn: a hand-me-down-hat. I remember it clearly. It was my mom’s and had wonderful earflaps that kept the wind from piercing through. I loved that vintage hat, but I never wore it again, it was filled with haunting memories.

I did most of my growing up at Camp Walden. It’s a thriving social environment. But not just anyone can fit into the popular cabin at camp; you must be the cool of the cool. So, I bought myself a new yellow baseball cap from Abercrombie and Fitch, “hey, Abercrombie, that’s pretty cool” I thought. It was, and I fit in. I wore that yellow baseball cap sitting on my porch talking to boys, tanning by the lake, and making up dances to Spice Girls songs…until I turned thirteen. After my fourth summer at Walden, I had matured and decided to open up to new opportunity. I then wore that yellow baseball cap on canoe trips to Algonquin Park, on rafting trips down the Ottawa River and while roasting marshmallows and singing with friends. That hat aged well, and at Walden, so did I.

In July of 2006, for the first time in eleven years, I did not attend camp. I travelled throughout Europe; I saw a music festival and significant sights. I fell completely in love with the enchanting city of Dubrovnik, Croatia. The streets were narrow and walled with medieval brick. The ground was paved with smooth tile, worn in time. While browsing the ancient streets inside the walls of downtown Dubrovnik, I met a lonesome traveler. She was an elderly woman, resting on a tree stump in a corner near the water line. She was selling hand-knit goods. She had made many-a-hat, but one especially caught my eye. I bought it for three American dollars. It was a bright orange bucket cap embellished with strings of yellow and orange beads that swing with the movement of your head. I wore it until every last bead fell off.

This summer I bought a hat in an Arabic market in the old city of Jerusalem. A member of the Druze, a secretive religion with very few successors, made the hat by hand. It is embroidered in classic Druze style. It is intricate and unique. It is stiff and misshapen. It’s got character. Every hat has a mood. This hat, like most others, tells a story. Each hat takes on a role: they can be spiritual; they keep us warm; they signify; they are fun; they can shade; they adorn. I like hats.

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