The Were Pen’s Gift

November 3, 2008

   Were Pen was hovering madly like a possessed bee.  She was so angry she was spitting ink and making quite a mess. 

   “What’s the matter now?” I asked warily.

   “You – I – you have the nerve to ask what’s wrong. As if you didn’t know.”

   “All I know is you’re acting weird, even for you.  What’s wrong?”

   “I just think it’s unfair, that’s all.”

   “What’s unfair?”

   “The way you represent me in the Were Pen stories.  Like I’m some mean old muse, a wicked writing witch with a whip (which is hard to say fast 3 times in a row, BTW).  Sure, Gertie gets to be the wise woman everyone loves, with her cozy quilts and her china teacups, but they just think I’m out to aggravate you, to “really sock it to you.”

   “If the shank fits…”

   “I may say one or two tiny harsh words, just to keep you on track, but let’s balance the picture a little.  I’ve got a good side, too.”

   “I know,” I agreed.

   “Then why don’t you tell all those readers about the good things I’ve given you.”

   “Such as?”

   “Well, what about that very special present, that pebble in your pocket.”

   I instinctively reached into my pocket a touched the smooth river stone.  “Yes, that is a very precious gift, something I try to appreciate each day, and when I forget, it’s a good reminder.  I owe you, Were Pen, and I will tell all Lemuria.”

   The Were Pen became still, and seemed to take on a brighter shine, as I told the story of the Pocket of OK…


    “Once upon a time, there was a woman who worried too much.  She was afraid she wasn’t good enough, smart enough, brave enough, talented enough – you get the picture.  She knew bad things happened to good people and she hoped it wouldn’t be her turn any time soon.  So one day, as the woman, whose name was Kezza, sat trying to think of something to write in her journal, she thought, “The Muse must hate me! Or worse – the Muse doesn’t know I’m alive and trying to channel some inspiration!  Or worst – She knows and she doesn’t care because she thinks I’m no good, I’ll never be a writer, or an artist, or even a good email buddy…”

   As she sat there, writing a few words and crossing them out despondently, she heard a voice.  “Hey, take it easy!”

   “Who said that?” she asked.

   “Me.  Your pen.  Your Were Pen, to be exact.”

   “Were Pen?  Like a Were Wolf?”

   “Yes, or like Ged’s magic blue were light in Ursula K. LeGuin’s Earthsea Trilogy.”

   “So you’re magic?”

   “I like to think so,” replied the Were Pen.

   “Can you help me with creativity?” Kezza asked.  “Help me get inspired?”

   “I can do more than that.  I can give you a priceless gift.”

   “What do I have to do?”

   “Just close your eyes and open your hand.”  I did.  I felt something small and hard and round and smooth placed into my palm.  “Open your eyes.” I did, and I saw a small worn river stone, marked with one word, written in bold black ink.  It said “OK”.”

   “’OK’?  I don’t understand.”

   “I am giving you this gift to remind you of this simple message:  Everything is, or is going to be, OK.  You, as a person, your life, your writing, is, or will be, OK.  You may not realize every dream, or travel to all the places you wanted to, or meet all the people you wanted to meet, or win a literary prize, or get published by Random House, but everything is going to be OK.  When you start to worry, and you forget that, just touch the stone and remind yourself, ‘Everything is going to be OK.’”  And it will be OK – eventually.”

   “Are you sure?” I asked doubtfully.

   “Would a talking Were Pen lie?” she asked, slyly.

   So Kezza put the rock in her pants pocket so she would always have a pocket of OK, wherever she went, and she lived OK ever after – some ups, some downs, but basically OK, and she always tried to remember what a wonderful gift it is to have an OK day.


revenge of the were pen

October 21, 2008

 I went into the little kitchen and put on the tea kettle.  While I waited for the water to get hot enough, I thought about all the things I had been learning the past few months in Lemuria.  I smiled, thinking of Gail’s horses, and June’s trees, and Jill’s weavings, and Lori’s mandalas, and Thalia’s crayon rainbow, Imogen’s lilacs, Anita Marie’s friendly ghosts, Genece’s sleeping snow leopard, Heather’s “There’s a good lass!” encouragements, and so much more.  It had been a rich season.  I could sip from this Well of Mnemosyne many times and still find it refreshing. 

I recall the joy of joining Soul Food Cafe, becoming a raven, winning a Laurel Crown.  I dared to share a story, a piece of stained glass, wrote 3 identity poems, all different, all generously received and commented.  And then, the gift of the muse, my were pen character – birthed by the Enchanteur’s Journey – discovered in the catacombs – and another gift character, Gravel Gertie, the wise woman, who met me at Mudjimba Beach…

   But where was Gertie?  I looked at her chair, but it was empty.  There was her tea cup, still warm and fragrant with essence of tangerine, some wheat toast crumbs on a plate, but no Gertie.

   “Looking for someone?” asked a familiar voice.
   I turned, and there she was – my were pen.
   “Have you seen Gertie?” I asked.
   “Seen her? Kezza, I CREATED her. I brought her into this story, and I can take her out.”
   “What are you talking about?”
   “Everyone was liking her so much, they forgot about me.  Even you – don’t deny it! – Especially you!”
   “I thought you were on sabbatical, or resting…”
   “Nice try, but no cigar.  You wanted to get rid of me. Everybody likes the wise old crone archetype, a shortcut to the wisdom of the ages and all that. That Gertie was upstaging me – so – I wrote her out of the script.”
   “You heard me.  No more Gertie, no more wise woman.  You’ve got to figure things out for yourself now.  You are on your own, baby.”
   “But how will I find my way without her?”
   “You didn’t listen to her much.  Gertie was all about telling you to trust your instincts, be true to yourself, you have what you need right inside you.  Were you sleeping through class?”
   “No, I, I was listening, I’m just scared.”
   “So Gertie was wasting her time, you didn’t learn anything.”
   “I learned so much!”
   “You were supposed to learn how to trust your own creative voice.”
   “How do YOU know what Gertie was trying to teach me?  You weren’t here.”
   The were pen lowered its voice and said, laughing, “Pretty good is hard to beat…”
   It sounded just like Gertie!
   “Slowly the light dawns.  Yes, Kezza, I am Gertie, too.  I guess you forgot about my shapeshifting abilities?  I’m a were pen – I write fiction – I can be anything your imagination dreams up.  You just have to use me to put your thoughts down.”
   “You’re Gertie? And my were pen?”
   “Yes.  And we are both products of your creative imagination.  You created us – so, you are Gertie, and your were pen, and anything else you care to think up – all rolled into one big ball of ‘What happens next’.  Gift of the Muse and all that…”
   I jumped when the whistle blew on the tea kettle.  I poured water over a tea bag and sat down.  “This is going to take some time to settle in…”

(c) 2008 Kerry Vincent

where’s my were pen?

October 16, 2008

July 28, 2008

   I packed, unpacked, and re-packed.  I wanted to be sure I had everything I would need for the trip to Mudjimba.  The only problem was that I had no idea what I’d need, because I wasn’t really sure where I was going.  

   “Triton’s coral? Check. Granola bars? Check. Change of clothes & shoes? Clean socks & underwear?  Check & check. Sunflower seeds? Check.  30 SPF sunscreen? Check. Chocolate? Check.  Ibuprophen? Check. Water bottle? Check. Extra juice? Check.”  I wasn’t sure what would happen after I arrived on the island, but I was pretty sure I wouldn’t starve, get sunburned, or be dehydrated.  I was ready for anything. I hoped.

   I swam through the beautiful blue waters and surfaced on a gorgeous beach, perfect temperature, puffy cottonball clouds, bird calls I didn’t quite recognize.  I had landed in paradise!

Mudjuimba Beach, Queensland


   I slathered myself with coconut-scented sunscreen and walked along the beach, picking up pretty sea shells, playing tag with the lapping waves.  I followed the shoreline, and as I came around a cove, I saw her:  the Sand Dreaming Woman.

“Drifting with the Current” – Sand Sculpture in St. Petersberg, Russia (Yahoo News Story), by Tatyana Kuznetsova and Vsevolod Averkiev


   I wondered who had built this, and why.  A local woman was standing behind the sculpture and said, “She’s a beaut, all right.”

   “Yes,” I agreed, “but who is she?”

   “She’s the Sand Dreamer.  She sits and she watches the tides go in and out.  Day and night, good and bad, then and now, she’s seen it all.  Whatever happens, happens.”

   “What if there’s a storm?  She’ll wash away.”

   “Then she washes away.  Nothing lasts forever.”

   “That’s sad. They should build a wall, like a levee, to protect her for posterity,” I suggested.

   “I don’t think the Sand Dreamer would want that.  The story goes, Sandra Coomer was a real woman, whose motto was, ’This, too shall pass.’  If Sandra were happy, she knew that joy would fade before long.  If she were heart-broken, she knew, if she could just hold on awhile, some day things would be better.  Even on her death bed, Sandra said, “My life has been a great, strange dream, sometimes odd and frightening, sometimes mysterious and beautiful, like the mesmerizing coral reefs under the sea – but I wouldn’t have missed it – even the hard parts – for anything!  Yet, as I always said,  ’This, too shall pass.’”

   I thanked the woman for telling me the Sand Dreamer’s story.  I reminded myself not to waste time, to stop and appreciate the gift of life often.  “Every day is a blessing,” “Nothing last forever,” “This, too, shall pass,”: I wanted to write these sayings down, like a prayer or a chant, before I forgot them.  I dug in my pack and found my journal, but…

   I couldn’t find my Were-Pen!  “Claire, where are you?  Were-Pen, I need you!  I know I packed you! I checked! Where are you?  I can’t write without my pen.”  I was in full panic mode now. 

   I looked at the silent, serene Sand Dreamer sculpture and muttered, “Yeah, I know, ‘this too shall pass’, but you don’t understand. I’m a writer – I live to write and write to live!  

   “WERE-PEN?  WHERE ARE YOU?” I yelled.

tapestry unraveling

October 16, 2008

September 19, 2008

   Gertie and I were sitting on her back porch, relaxing, drinking iced mango tea and watching clouds form and pass on. 


   “Yes, Kezza?”

   “Isn’t someone supposed to show me my life tapestry while I’m here in Mudjimba Island?”

   “I think Enchanteur did mention that once.”

   “Are you the one who will tell me what it all means?”

   “What do you think, child?”

   “I hate when you answer a question with question.”

   “I know,” said Gertie, chuckling softly.

   “I wonder where my tapestry is?” I said.

   “It might be inside my house, in my old cedar chest.”

   “Really?  It’s been here all along?  Can I see it now?”

   Gertie sighed and took her time answering.  “Yes, dear Kezza, you can see it whenever you want.  But are you sure you want to?  You might see something you don’t like.”

   “Hmmm.  I know, but I’d rather know, so I can deal with it.  Even if it’s bad.”

   “Sometimes we look for answers, and then find out we were happier just asking the questions.”

   “You may be right, but I am a curious cat!”

   “Like Here & Now?

   “Why Not?”

   The animals heard their names, slightly raised their heads, and went back to sleeping in their sunbeams.

   “Wouldn’t it be nice to be content like them, not caring about the future?”

   “Yes, but I’m not like that.  Gertie, please show me my tapestry.”     

   “If you insist.”

   I followed Gertie inside.  She went to her old cedar chest, lifted the lid, and brought out the most beautiful tapestry I had ever seen.

   “Oh!  It’s lovely!”  But I didn’t see any pictures, no clues about me or my future.  “What does it mean?”

   “You see that teensy bead right there, Kezza?”


   “That’s you.  Everything else you see – those glorious colors and shapes and textures and patterns – that’s the whole of life.”

   “And I’m just a little speck?”

   “You are tiny, but you are a beautiful pearl, connected to the whole of life itself.  You are part of the design.”

   “Not a very big part.”

   “You don’t have to be big to be part of something wonderful.”

   “Oh,” I said quietly.

   “You sound disappointed, Kezza.”

   “I am.  I thought my tapestry would tell me how I fit in, what to do, where to go next.”

   “You’re here.  That’s enough.”

   “Is it?”

   “What do you think?”

   “You know how I hate when you answer a question with a question…”

   “I know, I know.  It’s part of the Wise Woman Creed – “Never give a straight answer when a mysterious one is more confusing.”

   I looked at the beautiful tapestry – and my tiny part in it.  It was beautiful.  I was part of it.  I tried to convince myself it was enough.  

   …But I still felt like no one would notice if one tiny seed pearl went missing…


Kerry Vincent © 2008


  1. Wonderful! I can’t wait to find out what happens next. Only one little seed indeed…


         by willingness September 20, 2008 at 1:21 am edit comment

  2. “Wise Woman Creed – “Never give a straight answer when a mysterious one is more confusing.” YES! I love this line. LOL!

         by Lori September 20, 2008 at 4:32 am edit comment

  3. what a beautiful story as well as a beautiful quilt. Reminds me of the popular story of a man walking along a seashore tossing (here the stories vary as to what living critter is being tossed) one at a time back into the ocean so each can live. Someone questions the actions saying there are so many, why bother? “It matters to this one,” he says as he tosses another back into life.

    May be tiny or just one, but very important.

         by Thalia September 20, 2008 at 1:42 pm edit comment

  4. Oh I would notice if even the tiniest of seed pearls was missing and I would come looking for you ;).
    “You don’t have to be big to be part of something wonderful.”……beautifully said and I love the cryptic nature of Gertie and much more so her sense of humour. You shine through!

         by Jill September 20, 2008 at 4:00 pm edit comment

  5. Oh and those quilts – gorgeous, so gorgeous they hurt my eyes – in a good way )

         by Jill September 20, 2008 at 4:01 pm edit comment

  6. Glorious and great wisdom here. Love the images, too.

         by imogen88 September 21, 2008 at 4:11 am edit comment

  7. Your authentic voice rings out in this piece Kerry, silencing all the song birds. Beautiful and very insightful.

         by Heather Blakey October 6, 2008 at 11:44 am edit comment

double rainbow

August 29, 2008


     Gertie fed me a wonderful dinner of greens and cornbread.  She had already informed me I would be spending the night at her cottage, no arguments.  So at least for now, I knew where I would lay my head, and what I would do for the rest of the evening.

     “Rest up, child, you don’t know what tomorrow will bring,” Gertie said.

     I helped Gertie clean up and then she said, “There’s nothing more I love in this life than to watch the sun go down, with a glass of wine in my hand.  Join me on the back porch.”

     We walked outside to an evening that was cool and pleasant, with a slight breeze.  It had rained while we were eating supper, so there was a fresh scent in the air, and the glittering of crystal droplets on the grass and leaves.  We sat down, poured wine, and clinked our glasses together:  Gertie announced, “A toast – we witness this day as it draws to a close – and we are thankful for it.”

     “Amen,” I said, taking a sip.  Looking up from my glass, I saw the most beautiful sight before us:  a double rainbow.  “It’s a miracle!”

     “Every day is a miracle – this day just happens to have a frame around it.  The rainbow is a blessing – all those colors, embracing the light…”

   “Sometimes I think the world is such a bad place – so many bad things happen – and then I see something like that…”

   “You know what they say, it takes both rain and sunshine to make a rainbow…The world is both good and bad, delicious and devastating – but it’s the only one we have, so we have to honor it and protect it.  This is it  – for better or worse, love it or hate it.  I choose our world, this life – the whole package – rainbows and tsunamis, falling in love and breaking your heart, a baby’s to smile and saying a last goodbye to a pet in too much  pain – we take the bitter with the sweet, the joy with the sorrow.  The best we can do is to be present each day, and, like my mother always said, do our best to make the world a better place if we can.”

     “And the world is a better place because you’re here, Gertie.”

     “And you, too, Kezza.  The world needs you, whether you know it or not.  You are at the nexus of here and now, of being and meaning.”

     “I’m just me.”

     “That’s good enough.”


     “Yes, I think you’re good enough, Kezza.  In fact, I think you’re pretty good.  And you know what I always say…”

     “Pretty good is hard to beat,” I quoted, laughing with my friend.


(c) 2008 Kerry Vincent

find your inner were pen

August 19, 2008

August 12, 2008

So there I was, on the isle of Mudjimba, Old Woman Island, where somebody was supposed to meet me, and make all things clear, and show me the way to go.  At least that is what I had hoped would happen when I got to Mudjimba – so far I was just hot, tired, frustrated, and I had lost my beloved were pen.

I sat down on a bit of stone wall and looked out to sea, hoping watching the waves would calm me down.  “This too shall pass,” I whispered, as the Sand Dreamer taught, although I was still upset.  I tried to meditate, but my monkey mind kept jumping from topic to topic.  I tried to relax and focus on my breathing, but I got get an itch in the middle of my back I had to scratch it now, but I couldn’t quite reach it.  I tried rubbing my back against a tree trunk.  Just as I was starting to get the right spot, I heard a loud, throaty  “Unh-uh-uh.”  Embarrassed, I stopped immediately, opened my eyes, and saw a dark woman wearing a bright flowered sundress dabbing a wet cloth on her ample, wrinkled bosom, staring at me.

“I heard of tree-huggers, but I don’t know what you’d call what you’re doing to that tree – tree humpin’?” she said in her deep, raspy voice.

“I’m sorry, I just had an itch, I couldn’t reach it, so I thought the rough tree bark…”

“You don’t have to ‘splain it,” said the woman, laughing.  “It’s obvious, you needed someone to scratch your itch, but you should have asked for help.  I love a tree same as the next person, but you just actin’ silly.  She smiled broadly and said, “Hello, I’m Gravel Gertie.  Turn around, child.  Where you need that scratchin’ done?”

I turned and pointed to where the hooks of my bra were irritating my back.  Gertie gave me a good scratch, exactly were I needed it, and it was all I could do to keep from thumping my foot like a happy dog scratched just right.

“Sometimes you can help yourself, and sometimes you can ask for help.  This was one of those ‘ask for help’ times.  What’s your name, child?”

“Kezza.  Thank you, ma’am.”

“You’re welcome, Kezza, but please call me Gertie – ‘ma’am’ makes me feel like I should be an old woman in a church dress and rolled-up stockings.  I don’t mind bein’ old, but I don’t want to be prissy.  I’m a tough old broad and proud of it!  My wrinkles prove I’ve done some hard livin’ – I haven’t just been takin’ a nap down here on this planet.”

“No, Gertie, I can see you don’t take the easy way out.  No offense.”

“None taken.  How about you, Kezza?  How are you feelin’ now?”

“Pretty good,” I lied.  I was feeling a little bit better, but I was still worried.

“Pretty good is hard to beat!” said Gertie, smiling.

I couldn’t help but smile too.

“But something is troublin’ you.  Tell old Gertie about it.  You’ve lost something – something near and dear to you.”

“How did you know?”

“I know lots of things.  I’m almost blind in both eyes now, but I can see things other people miss.  It’s all a matter of paying attention.  Maybe I can help you find what you’ve lost.”

“But I don’t even know where to start looking, Gertie!  I’ve lost my Were Pen – there’s not another one like it in the whole world!  My Pen has been with me through thick and thin, good and bad, highs and lows…I always keep it with me, so I can write in my journal – that is, if I ever get inspired again.  It’s been ages since I’ve had an original thought,” I complained.

“I’m sure you’re exaggerating, you have all kinds of interesting thoughts – let your readers decide what ones are good or bad.  Words take on a life on their own after you speak them or publish them anyway.  Like kids, when some words move out of the house, they never look back.  Readers bring their past experiences to your work, so the stories that you put down may remind a reader of something that happened to them years ago, that has nothing to do with what you wrote, but it means something special to them.  We never know what our words might mean to someone else.  Give your readers some credit – trust them a little bit.  The good ones will amaze you and the lazy ones don’t matter that much.”

“What you just said – your words – are wonderful, I wish I could write them down!”  Out of habit, I reached in my backpack and pulled out my journal.  I gasped.  As usual, my Were Pen was clipped to the journal’s spiral binding, right where it should have been.

“But, but, I could have SWORN I checked that again and again and it wasn’t there before!” I said.

“What’s all the racket?” grumbled the Were Pen.

“I thought you were lost, gone forever, and I’d never see you again, Were Pen!”

“Don’t tease,” it said.  “I’ve been here all the time.  You must not have looked very hard.”

“Sometimes we try so hard to find something we look right by it.  Sometimes, the things we need, are right there with us all along,” said Gertie.

“And sometimes we’re taken for granted,” the Were Pen muttered.  

“Gravel Gertie, meet Were Pen.  Were Pen, meet Gravel Gertie.”

“Pleased to meet you, Were Pen.  I believe this problem is solved, Kezza.”

“Yes, thanks.  Now if I can just figure out where to go, what I’m supposed to do next.  But first, I would dearly love a nice cup of tea.”

“It’s not much, but my home is only a little way from here.  Why don’t you come home with me?  I’ll put the kettle on, and later, if you’re hungry, I’ve got a nice pot of mustard greens that have been simmering all morning.”

 “I’m starving!  If it won’t be too much trouble…”

“Not at all.  I don’t get much company these days; I get tired of talking to the same four walls.  It’d do me good to have visitors.  Besides, it will drive my nosy neighbor Izzy crazy wondering what’s going on!”

So I carefully re-packed my Were Pen and followed Gravel Gertie home to her little white cottage by the sea.  She had a beautiful garden, packed with color, best described as “controlled chaos”.  Beyond the flowers was a trim vegetable patch and a clothesline where the loveliest, most colorful cotton quilts I had ever seen were blowing in the gentle breeze. 


(c) 2008 Kerry Vincent

Beggars Quarters

August 19, 2008

      “So, where are you taking me now?”

            “Just around the corner, 2 blocks from nowhere,” said the were-pen, using her annoying little sing-song voice, because she knew I despised it.

            “How about a hint? North, south, east, or west?”

            “East of the sun, west of the moon, north of the stars, south of the lagoon” she sang.  She thought she was so clever when she rhymed.

            I did not like the look of this neighborhood.  Cracked and crumbling pavement, run-down buildings, vacant lots littered with old boxes and broken glass.  Even the little bit of light trying to shine down looked tired.  One little girl stomped in the puddles.  You could hear the screech of trucks and buses braking and somewhere a radio was bleating bass thumps.

            “I don’t like this place,” I said.

            “Then you shouldn’t have created it,” said the were-pen rather smugly.

            “I created it? What are you talking about?  I did not make this ugly place.”

            “Yes, you did.  Remember, there’s that beggar’s quarter in the city you and the Lemurian ladies are walking through?  Not far from the catacombs?  You were supposed to write about it, so here it is.  You brought it into being.  Your imagination, your description, it all came from your head.”

            “But it’s so dirty, and creepy.”

            “You are what you think,” the were pen said primly.  “What’s that Anne Lamott quote you like so much? ‘My mind is a bad neighborhood – I shouldn’t go there alone.’  Well, here we are.”

            I had to admit that often my mind wandered, and sometimes it went down trails of thought that were questionable.  I guess in Lemuria, the lines between reality and fantasy got extra blurry.  The vertigo made me nauseous.  I needed a cup of tea or something.

“Were-pen?  I’m hungry.  You think maybe you could lead me someplace where we could get a bite to eat?  And a cup of tea?  I could really use a cuppa.”

“As you wish, so shall it be,” said the were-pen.

“If only,” I mumbled.


“I didn’t say anything….”

manhole cover

August 19, 2008


Once upon a time there was a talking lemur lady named Laurel who liked to look at manhole covers about the countryside of Lemuria.  She spoke of a “secret, subterranean world”, one filled with awe and wonder and intriguing stories and maybe buried treasure, and anyway, there was always a nice assortment of very good Lemurian lady traveling companions who were generally up for a journey, especially if there were to be tasty munchable treats along the way….


“C’mon, Ravens, let’s pop down here and have an underground adventure.  Here, you might need these,” Laurel says, handing out some “rubber dungarees”.  “The water down here is not always clean or nice.”  … You never know what lies ahead on a Lemurian adventure, but it is wise to be prepared for anything along the River Creative…


No ivory tower isolated artiste studios for these painters and writers and photographers and blow torch babes – nope, these gals are creativity’s answer to extreme sportsmen:  they are extreme artists.  “Amateur explorers of the secret underground” indeed – they are adept at diving down into the deep subterranean subconscious and bringing up a prized insight.  Jung had nothing on them!


If there is a secret underground Lemurian railroad, you can be assured that Laurel and the  Ravenettes will investigate it, test it, document it, and use it in a story 5 times to make it their own…


Sometimes they just needed a little escape from the fast-moving, high-pressured, too-stressful workaday world, even an evacuation from Mother Nature, who is justifiably acting out anger towards careless inhabitants… They need a respite, where it is serene, a peaceful, lovely, and just a little bit other-worldly – they need to answer when Lemuria calls.


And then, when they re-emerge to pick up their regular lives again, they are refreshed, rejuvenated, and renewed.  They use their art to cast spells and turn everyday items – like manhole cover mandalas – into artful objects.


© 2008 Kerry Vincent – I used this article to get started on this madchallenge exercise.  Words in quotation marks are taken directly from the article.  I discovered this story by googling “manhole covers” and “serenity”. kerry

Gertie goes with the flow

August 19, 2008

Gravel Gertie’s cottage was just big enough for Gertie and her pets.  She had two cats, “Here” and “Now”, and a little beagle named “Whynot”, which Gertie told me was short for one her life philosophies, “Why the hell not?”  When she opened the back door, all the animals came streaming out, a knee-high but determined speeding train of cat hair, dog slobber, and rambunctious good will.  “Do you business, and get back inside,” Gertie commanded.  The pets obediently ran and emptied their bladders, but they were not ready to go back in the house right away.  Gertie called them, “Come, Here!  Come, Now!  Whynot!?!”  The dog did a few freedom laps and the cats ignored us, until Gertie yelled, “Come, Here, Now!” and finally, the parade returned and we all went inside.

            The back door opened to Gertie’s tiny kitchen, a small room painted sunshine yellow, with red gingham curtains on the windows and overflowing herb pots on the sills.  “Sit down, I’ll put the kettle on,” Gertie said, lighting her little gas stove.  I sat at the aluminum and red formica-topped table, no retro chic remake, but an original from the 1950s.  My chair was covered with red vinyl, rubbed white in spots from years of wear.  What meals had been served, what intriguing conversations had taken place at this old table?

            “Here you go, good old Lipton tea,” said Gertie, setting two white mugs on the table.  “Oatmeal cookies?  They’re a little stale, I don’t get out much,” she apologized.

            I sipped my tea and nibbled at the hard cookie.  “Thank you.  Everything is wonderful.  You didn’t have to go to all this trouble.”

            “It’s my pleasure.  A toast:  Here’s to Kezza, and her trusty Were Pen, and whatever adventures lie ahead!  May your days be interesting and your nights be safe!”  We clinked our cups.

            “But, Gertie, I am a little worried.  I’m not sure where I’m supposed to go, or how I’m supposed to get there, or what I’m supposed to do.  I want an itinerary, a program ,or an outline.  What’s the A, B, & C of all this?”

            “No one ever gets their lives mapped out for them,” said Gertie.  “I try to live in the Here and Now, I remind myself of that every time I see the kitties.  They live from one sunbath to the next.  We could learn from them.  We should be flexible, go with the flow, you know…”

            “I hate not knowing what’s coming next!  I can deal with something if I know it’s coming.  I can plan for it, study up, get ready, prepare myself.”

            “And how often do you get to live life that way?  Almost never.  No, it’s better to embrace the unknown, not fear it!  ‘Nothing more constant than change.’”

            “But what if something bad is coming?”

            “What if something good is on the way?  You don’t know.  You might miss a good opportunity because you’re afraid it will be something you won’t like.”

            “I can handle what I know; I don’t know if I can handle what I don’t know.”

            “You don’t know you can’t handle something new until you try it.  You don’t know your own strength, until you have to use it.  Then it’s like adrenalin – you can lift a mini-van off a child.”

            “I don’t know…”

            “It’s not easy, but we can choose to say yes to life, whether good or bad, or live in a hidey-hole and hope everyone leaves us alone.  I don’t know about you, but I need room to grow.”

            “But what if I fail?”

            “So?  What if you do?  Then you try again.  You think these silly cats of mine give up because I stop them from running out the door once or twice?  No – they just wait till their next chance, and then they try something sneaky.  Sometimes the cats win, sometimes I do.  It’s a game – the important thing is to keep playing, win or lose.”

            “But I’ve failed before.”

            “You and everyone else.  You just keep trying.  Don’t live in the past.  Respect where you’ve come from,  but move on.  Look over there.”  Gertie pointed to three plates that hung in a scrolled ironwork holder.  The top said “Honor the past”; the middle read, “Cherish the now”; the bottom plate, “Create the future.”

            “Whynot,” Gertie crooned, calling her pooch.

            “OK, OK.  Past, present, future.  Balance.  I’ve got it.  But it still doesn’t tell me where I’m going.”

            “Does the destination matter as much as the journey?”

            “I don’t know, Gertie!  I was taught you always started out with a plan.”

            “Plans aren’t bad – it’s just that sometimes they change.  The trick is knowing when to stay the course and when to go with the flow…Let’s take a walk outside, Kezza.”  We went out the back door, accompanied by the happy petting zoo.   I followed Gertie over to the clothesline.  “These homemade quilts are so beautiful!  The colors – the designs – the fabrics!” I exclaimed.

            Gertie touched the quilts gently, like the dear old friends they were.  “I could show you the slip-ups I made on each one – there are so many – but I learned from each and every mistake.  The important thing is I kept on sewing, learning, growing.  Stitch after stitch, till my eyes watered and my fingers ached.  Sometimes I had an idea in mind and sometimes I didn’t.  Sometimes I started out doing one pattern, but it didn’t look right, no matter how hard I tried.  So I quit forcing it, let the work have its own way, and then things flowed – turned out better than I could have ever planned myself!  Often we just have to get out of our own ways, and let things happen, let the creative force flow its natural course.  If it turns out, great!  If it doesn’t, we start over again, tired, maybe, but smarter, we hope.”

            I fingered the soft cotton quilts.  Maybe there were a few tiny flaws, if you looked very close, but overall, they were phenomenal.  “Gertie, these are wonderful, just the way they are.  When you see the whole picture, the whole quilt, it looks as though you planned every scrap, every stitch.”

            “But I didn’t.  I did my best, made adjustments along the way, and it all worked out, more or less.”           

             “The results are beautiful,” I agreed.

            Gertie smiled.  “Thank you.  I think these are dry now.  How about you help me take them down, fold them, and bring them in?”

            Gertie and I folded the quilts and lay them in her wicker basket.  “Time to go,” she called.  “Come, Here! Come, Now!  Whynot!”  I picked up the basket and followed her back inside.


© 2008 Kerry Vincent

Confronting the Triton

July 23, 2008

July 22, 2008

            “Were-Pen, where are we going next?”

            “Triton’s Lair,” she replied.

            “Under the sea?”

            “Yes, of course.  Where else would an ocean god live?”

            “Just one little detail, hardly anything to worry about, but, well, you’ve got some metal bits that might corrode in the salt water, and me, well, maybe you didn’t notice my lack of gills, but I’m a land mammal.  I can’t breathe underwater.”

            “Oh ye of little faith!” said the Were-Pen.  “This is Lemuria!  We’re not bound by the laws of physics!  You’ll be just fine!  Just dive in!  The magic will work!”

            “But what if it doesn’t?”

            “You must believe.”

            “That’s just it, Were-Pen.  I have this itty bitty problem called a complete lack of faith.  The gods tend to hold disbelief against you.”

            “Maybe in your world, but this is fiction, and anything can happen, so here we go!”  The Were-Pen sharply prodded me in the back and I took a giant leap of, well, maybe not faith, but I was definitely stepping out past the point of no return.  And to my great surprise, it worked!

            “It’s amazing!  How did this happen?  I’m here, under the waves, and I’m breathing just fine.  It’s a miracle!”

            “Not really,” said the Were-Pen.  “Your life on land, that was your past, but you have to go on.  The tide goes in and out, with you or without you, it’s the law of ebb and flow, flotsam and jetsam.  You can’t step in the same river twice, it moves on, just go with the flow, don’t look back, however you want to say it.”

            I looked at the Were-Pen.  “You are very wise.”

            “Of course I am.  I have been used to record man’s wisdom through the ages.  You didn’t think I’m just any No. 2 pencil, did you?”

            “No.  But what is your name, if I may ask?”
            “You may call me Claire, short for Clarity, what you discover when you write down your thoughts, emotions, history, culture, stories.”

            “Claire, is Triton as fierce as they say?” I asked.  The stories I’d heard were terrifying.

            “He does have a temper, and no doubt about that, but he’s not all bad.  Certainly, he is the god of hurricanes and tsunamis, but he is also the god of moonlit beaches and silver sunrises over the seas.”

            “I hope you are right, Claire, because I do not think he will like his gift.”

            “Often we receive gifts we did not ask for, and may not like.”

            “True, and sometimes they are just what we needed, though we don’t realize it at the time,” I agreed.  “But I wonder how the Triton will react to an unpleasant lesson in humility?”

            “We’ll soon know.” 

           Claire and I entered magnificent rainbow-colored coral gates, and stopped before the Triton’s Castle-Under-the-Sea.  I rang the knocker, an ornate, antique brass anchor.  I heard no sound, but felt vibrations.

            “Who knocks?” an ancient Gray Dolphin asked.

            “Kerry and Claire, If you please, with a gift for his lordship the Triton,” I squeaked.

            “More likely a trinket to barter your passage to Mudjimba,” the Gray Dolphin muttered.

            “Yes, it’s true, we do ask his lordship’s permission to pass unharmed….We apologize for bothering your royal highnesses,” I said, trying to curtsey, which, under water, was not so gracefully executed.

            “Tourists,” the Gray Dolphin grumbled.  “Follow me.  Triton is bored today – perhaps frightening you will entertain him, at least until Wheel of Sailors’ Fortune comes on…”

            “Sire, some tourists for you to terrorize,” say the Gray Dolphin, then swam back to a safe distance.

            The Triton thrashed about and drew himself up to his full height, 20 feet at least, and his seaweed hair and beard billowed out in ragged, murky tentacles.  His eyes were as red as the center of a volcano.  His torso was huge, barnacled, and broad as a boulder.  The bottom half of his body was dark green and scaled.  He had no legs, only a powerful fishlike tail, which constantly flipped, like an angry cat’s.

            “What do you want?” he roared.

            “I stumbled, knelt, and shakily said, “Please, o Great Triton, may we pass through your kingdom safely, to Mudjimba Isle?”

            “What’s in it for me?  And it better be good.”

            “I have brought you a most special gift.  It comes from long ago and far away, from New England, in North America.”

            “Near the coast of the Atlantic Ocean?” he asked.  I nodded.  “Let’ see what you have, then.”

            I opened my Enchanteur’s bag, and pulled out a tiny iron scrollwork balcony, which grew to its full-size when it entered the salt water.  “They put these rails on balconies upstairs of homes, where the women would look out to sea, waiting for their sailor husbands to return home.  It’s a widow’s walk, because so often, the men were lost at sea.” 

            “You blame me for their deaths?”  The Triton’s eyes glowed with rage.

            “No, of course not,” I said quickly.  “You can’t stop the ocean’s ways.  You can’t stop the tides.  Whenever humans go to sea, we take a risk.  This widow’s walk is a token to honor your power, and, perhaps, a reminder, that what you do may impact someone else miles away from here and years away from today.”

             “Mortal, who are you to tell me how to rule my kingdom?”

            “No one.  I have no right.  But I strive to be a writer, and it is my sacred duty to try to tell the truth, humbly, even when I am afraid.  Please forgive me.  I must try my best to speak true, even when the words are hard to tell, and hard to hear.”

            The Triton looked hard at me, broke off a piece of living coral, and handed it to me.  “My reef is sacrificing some of its life to ensure your safe passage to Mudjimba.  I know how unpleasant it is to be the bearer or hard truths.  Your way, like mine, is not an easy one.  People will not thank you.  They will not want to be with you.  You may earn their respect, but not their love.  It is a loneliness as wide and as deep as the seven seas.  You will suffer enough – you need suffer no more at my hand.   You may pass through my kingdom with my blessing.  Go.”

Kerry Vincent (c) 2008

(Washington National Cathedral, light art by Gerry Hofstetter, re-colored by Kerry Vincent)