You’re a Maid in a Hotel…

This writing prompt is courtesy of my fabulous writing buddy, Steff. It was so much fun to write some fiction and just be silly for a bit. 🙂

Prompt: You’re a maid in a hotel. You find something in the room that isn’t normally there, do you return it or not? Write for 20 minutes or 2 pages, writer’s choice.

My shift ended in 15 minutes and I had all my rooms cleaned and cart ready to check-in. My co-worker Sheila begged me to take her last room; she was running behind and couldn’t afford to miss her quota again. I pushed my cart back to the service elevator and pressed 3. Room 3115 would be the last room I would ever clean.

When I pushed open the door to the room, it appeared that no one had stayed in the room. The bed linens weren’t creased. The soaps and shampoos that most guests squirrel away in the luggage sat untouched along the spotless bathroom counter. Nothing appeared to be altered in any way.

I stood in the middle of the room searching for any sign of a visitor. Then I spotted the edge of a book at the end of the bed. It was covered in a worn leather. I sat in one of the chairs next to the window not wanting to mess up the bedding. I untied the leather strip and placed it on the table. The book cracked as I opened to find the pages filled with handwritten notes covering the front and back of every page. The precise script began, “The book you hold in your hands is no ordinary book. It has sought you out to impart secrets only a few will ever possess.”

I closed the book and peered around thinking this had to be a joke or my bosses were testing me to see if I would sit down on the job or take the book for myself. Well, I decided I didn’t need any secrets. Secrets get people in trouble. I tied the leather strip back around the book and placed it on my cart. In the basement, I checked my cart in, signed the “Lost and Found” log describing the book and left it with Jerry the night manager.

“What’s this? Someone’s diary?” He flipped it over in his hands.
“I don’t know. I didn’t look at it.”
“Well, let’s take a looksy, shall we?”
“I don’t think we should look at someone’s diary.”
“Oh don’t be such a Pollyanna.”
Jerry opened the book, same cracking sound as before.

“It’s blank.” We said in unison.

His more a statement, mine more of a confused question.

“Well, that’s no fun. I was hoping for some juicy stories.”
“My shifts over, so I’m going to head out. You think someone’s really going to come back for that diary?”
“Nah. Probably won’t make the effort.”
“Mind if I have it?”
He tossed the book at me. “It’ll be our little secret.” He gave me a wink.

With the book tucked securely under my arm, I clocked out and hurried to the park across from the hotel and sat down on the bench where I often sat after work gathering my thoughts. I untied the leather strip, curled it around my fingers, and opened the book to the first page.

“As I wrote before, the book you hold in your hands is no ordinary book…”

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10 Years, 2 Pages, 3-Word Sentences

Here’s another fun writing exercise that forced me to look at my experiences/memories in a more focused way. In addition, it helped me be as concise as possible.

The exercise is to select a 10-year period in your life. I happened to choose ages 10-20, but you could select 12-22, 47-57. Just make sure you limit yourself to 10 years. Then instead of a timed writing this exercise forced me to stay with it for about two hours since I had to fill up two pages. A side note: I write pretty much write all rough drafts and writing exercises by hand, so your “pages” may be different than mine. Lastly, and this is the fun part. You can only use THREE, yes THREE words in each sentence! 🙂 Here’s an excerpt from my attempt. I don’t necessarily have “sentences” but I have attempted to string three words together. In any case, there are enough details for me to remember moments that I can expand later.

**Bonus: Once you have completed the two pages, read back through it and when you come to an area that jumps off the page at you, spend another two pages writing solely on that topic.

Excerpt: 1985-1995

Fall of 1985. 10 years old. My parents divorce. We must move. Mirror slices hand. We destroy house. Color on walls. Rip up carpet. Pull up tacks. Wagon packed up. Drive at night. Spooky new house. Wood covered walls. Chinese paper lantern. Dolls behind glass. Scary new school. Pretty blonde girl. Free lunch sevens. Many nose bleeds. Never see dad. Grandma moves in. She smokes Kools. Scoots house shoes. She eats SnoBalls. We watch Cheers. She curls my hair. She loves me. Grandma gets sick. She breathes loudly. Three purple X’s. Along her chest. Not long now.

I won’t post the rest, but even at this point, I have been able to grab the most vivid memories and distill them to a point I get at the essence of what was going on. The three purple X’s were drawn on her chest to mark where the radiation would be beamed into her (I don’t even know the right words for it all). I remember vividly seeing these purple X’s on her and the doctors so proud that they had burned away all her cancer only to find out they had burned her esophagus to the point she would never be able to eat again. I was 13 when she died and I have never forgotten those X’s. This exercise proved to be so helpful to me in mining my life experiences that I ended up doing it again for ages 21-31!

Happy writing! 🙂

Six Random Words and Twenty Minutes

Another great writing exercise my writing buddy and I did this year.

Writing Exercise- Select Six Random Words. Then write for 20 minutes. 

Birth control, boots, carnations, thunder, green strawberries

I lay awake staring at the ceiling, the green glow of the clock taunting me. 3:26 a.m. I focused on those numbers like a meditation to distract me form the booms of thunder and flashes of lightning that lit up our bedroom.

3:26 a.m. The exact minute she was born. My first child. I rolled over and looked at Jake’s lips slightly parted as he softly snored. Another flash of lightning illuminated his dusty work boots neatly arranged on a Braum’s paper sack near the closet.

Jake pulled 18-hour shifts at the glass plant, and I picked up all the shifts I could at the diner and we still couldn’t make ends meet. We were using birth control when we found out we were pregnant.

Now, we had a little one on the way. Jake took it as a sign that God wanted us to have a baby; I wasn’t so sure. He was like an overgrown kid singing to my belly and rhythmically tapping on it. One holdover from being a drummer, he tapped on anything.

We decided to decorate one side of our bedroom with pictures of angels. His folks gave us a tiny bassinet and it sat right next to our bed.

Jake drove damn near 90 miles an hour to get me to the hospital. The baby was on its way- three months too soon. I prayed and prayed for our baby to wait. Keeping saying it wasn’t time yet. But headstrong like her parents, Amber Marie, came when she wanted to come.

She was tiny, too tiny, and blue. She didn’t cry. Her little arm dangled from the doctor’s hand. I watched the doctors pump on her chest with just two fingers. Jake stood at the end of the bed, pale face. A nurse wrapped Amber in a pink blanket and rushed from the room.

“NICU.”

“We’ll keep working on her.”

“Take care of Mom.”

Pieces of phrases and words floating around. Nurses came and went, pushed on my stomach, took my blood pressure. They kept saying it was too high.

“Where’s my Amber?”

“There are no updates yet.”

I drifted off to sleep, when I woke up there was a glass vase filled with pink carnations and a bowl full of chocolate-covered strawberries. This was Jake’s “I’m sorry” gift when he’d messed up and couldn’t say so. The baby warmer had been removed from the room. All of the equipment the doctors and nurses used to bring Amber to life was gone too.

 

 

On being a dancer…

Each week my writing buddy and I get together and choose a writing exercise from one of the many writing books that we have amassed between the two of us. Some weeks we will search for just the perfect exercise only to end up describing her dining room or backyard and maybe incorporate some dialogue. But about a month ago, we had a really great exercise. We were to think about a pleasure that is our very own then write for 20 minutes. I actually wrote about two things but have decided to just include my very own pleasure of dancing.

My very own pleasure is the heart-racing, sweat-inducing dancing that I used to do. I remember the feeling of being in my body, commanding it to pirouette and leap, plie and releve, shuff-le step, shuff-le step. Then, strike the last pose, my lines perfect. I was in control. Able to turn off my mind and escape from the world. This is my very own pleasure to feel my heart thud against my sternum and reverberate through my rib cage. My mind singularly focused on a spot in front of me to mark each revolution of my body, round and round.

My face reddened and sweaty a marked difference from my lily white chest and arms. I smile in the mirror, feel sweat roll down my temples and along my ears, softly panting, waiting for the music to begin again.

Once a dancer, always a dancer. 🙂

Out of Sorts (August 12, 2007)

After spending nearly 24 hours traveling from Malawi to South Africa to Senegal to New York, I pretty much slept for the next three days. I let those closest to me know that I was home in one piece. Then for a few days, I roamed around the Lower East Side of Manhattan feeling out of sorts. I spent hours looking out over the East River wondering who I was, where I was, what in the world had I done to my life. I honestly thought when my priest gave the advice to take it easy upon returning to the US, that it didn’t really apply to me. I’m a go-getter and can adapt pretty easily to most circumstances, at least on the surface level. Boy, was I in for a shock!

My first Saturday back, I woke at 7am. No morning breakfast with friends, no bright and smiling Agnes (the waitress who joyfully brought me, the only traveler to drink soda at breakfast, my wonderfully chilled Coke in a bottle), no loading up my backpack for the day’s journey. Saddened, I fell back asleep. A few hours later I awoke to the same empty feeling. I decided to get dressed and venture out into the world if nothing else but to get some food. The feeling of separateness persisted and even after purchasing my favorite things, pens and a new journal, I couldn’t shake this disconnected feeling. I was alone before I left for Africa much of the time and dealt with it pretty well, but after experiencing such a wonderful feeling of connectedness to others, strangers and fellow travelers, I was very sad.

A friend of mine who traveled abroad earlier that  year had described similar feelings to me, so I decided to give him a call. He listened attentively as he always does and recommended a book to read. Mutant Message Down Under by Margo Morgan. The local bookstore didn’t have it. But he was so insistent that I read it that I thought, ‘What the heck?’ and hopped the train to the city in search of the book. I found it and sat in Union Square Park for hours reading. I finished it in one sitting. I am so grateful to Marlo Morgan for writing this book and my friend for feeling my sadness and telling me about the book. In the wee hours of Sunday morning, I had the feeling I was back in Africa. I felt a wash of calm and peacefulness come over me recalling how I felt cradled and comforted by the warm smiles and excited hugs of the villagers we met. One of the lessons I learned from the tribes we visited is learning to honor our grieving process. Leaving Africa behind and coming back to America is a loss. A loss I need to grieve in order to move forward. Not just in terms of coming back from this trip but my life as a whole. I feel small and fragile right now. So, be patient with me as I take time to try and make sense of a few things in my life.

Zicomo
(Thank you in Chichewe)

Update: So, this is the last entry for my Africa blog. I’m glad I finished it up this time. Only took me 5 years! But I think I was ready to finally look at some of the things that scared me back then. 🙂

Ludzi Parish Part 2 (Monday, August 6, 2007)

Part 2, Monday, August 6, 2007

One of the outreach programs at Ludzi Parish is to provide medicines to HIV/AIDS patients in surrounding villages. Some of the villages are within walking distance and on this day our group went to visit one of them. Children swarmed around us as we walked though all of the huts. Sister Agnes took us to one of the huts where a mother of three lay on a thin mat barely able to move. Her skin looked like it would tear if touched. The sounds of her children playing seemed to float in through the openings between the sides and roof of the hut- swirling around her ravaged body.

Sister Agnes explained that the mother was HIV-positive but AIDS symptoms had been held off because of medication. All of her children were HIV-negative because she took the proper drugs to ensure she would not pass the virus on to them during pregnancy or delivery. The woman gave a weak smile when Sister Agnes called her a, “Good Mother.” I wondered why she was so sick if she took the drugs to help keep the HIV under control. Sister Agnes let us know that because there has been such a focus on getting HIV-type drugs that many other more common drugs, like penicillin, are in short supply. So now you may not die of HIV or AIDS, but a curable illness like pneumonia. I felt sick. This mother that had loved her children enough to make sure she got the medication to keep them safe from HIV would be taken away from them because she couldn’t get a $10 antibiotic?

Our priest knelt next to the woman and asked if we could pray with her. The woman nodded slowly. The other women in the group gathered around and placed hands on her shoulder or back or held her hand. But I stood motionless in the corner. I could not approach this woman. It was not because I was afraid I would “catch” something from her. In that moment I had this flash of how “filthy” I was and how “clean” she was. I was afraid to touch her for fear I would infect her with my faithlessness. She needed all the faith possible to get better. I continued to watch from the corner of the hut as the women in the group continued to pray over her. Then a faint, “Amen,” drifted up from the woman’s lips.

All week there had been feelings of faith and love and joy and peace in the midst of poverty and death. But in my own life when faced with poverty and death and divorce and disappointment, I had not been faithful to a God I claimed to serve. My hands trembled in front of me and as the women continued to pray I ducked out the front of the hut.

Ludzi Parish- Goats and Rabbits and Pigs, Oh My! (Monday, August 6, 2007)

Monday, August 6, 2007

If I thought the previous few days had been filled with exciting and inspiring people and stories, I had yet to meet Sister Agnes. She is a one-woman show that is Ludzi Parish. On the grounds there is a convent, secondary school, income-generating programs including micro-loans for the endeavors, and a medical mission that takes medications into villages by bicycle.

Sister Agnes, Ludzi Parish

Sister Agnes, Ludzi Parish

Walking through the grounds I was astounded by everything! It felt like a Garden of Eden within a parched, dry land. I sat in the sanctuary for a very long time drinking in the peaceful quiet.

Ludzi Parish Sanctuary

Ludzi Parish Sanctuary

But this is not a place for idle hands and nuns shut up in cells praying non-stop. They hold classes at the parish to educate men and women (but especially women) on different income-generating projects from bee farming to raising goats, rabbits, pigs to growing mushrooms. The parish also helps with micro-loans to start the business. Sister Agnes said the returns have been amazing. Nearly 100% repayment of the initial investment. Some women had done so well with their businesses, they began teaching other women in the villages. Sister Agnes says, “Let them try a little bit of everything and see what catches fire.”

Mushroom Farming

Mushroom Farming

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Buny hutch

As we left the parish to walk around the bordering village, we encountered a group of men that were engaged in a ceremonial tribal act to honor their new chief. They raised their weapons toward our group and thank goodness Sister Agnes could speak their language. Traditionally, they are not to be seen by anyone during this time, but they had not remained well hidden in the tall grassy areas. And traditionally, they were to kill anyone who saw them. For a few tense minutes, Sister Agnes negotiated with the men and came to an agreement. They wanted to pose for our cameras and wanted money. I was happy to oblige both demands. This had certainly been a day filled with unexpected, eye-opening events!