Tiny Stories, Tiny Tales

getting it out of my system

Near the edge of Fabyan is a place. There is Fabyan with its wild orderliness, it’s sculptures, grottos and garden and then there is this place.
For good or bad it was there. Founded in 1894 by a woman- an Illinois State School for Girls. Certain sorts of girls. Immoral girls and unruly ones. “The bad ‘uns.” Maybe.
Maybe not. Girls from all over the state were placed here. They worked as maids during the day or did hard labour and then were locked into tiny cells at night with bars on the windows. Locked into a room at night after doing back breaking work. Rooms wide as far as you can stretch out your arms. Cells for bad girls.
And so girls died there. Some were taken back to their original homes but some were not. They weren’t wanted. Maybe there was no money in the family to get them back or maybe they were simply a disgrace. Maybe there was no family. So these dead girls and some of the dead babies that these girls had were put on a small plot on the property. Some were marked, some weren’t. They weren’t deep graves but they were put away. Names and dates and nothing else. Telling a story. A story. The property sat still forever. In 1979, the old buildings were shut down and the property sat and sat. I drove past as a little girl and always looked quizzically at the rising hill it was on. It rose up over the Fox River with the road nestled between its slope and the River and I always wondered, “What is up there? It looks so abandoned.” And it was. Till a few years ago when someone bought the old school farm and turned it into a housing development for the wealthy.
The wealthy? They drive out of the entrance in SUVs. They drive out of a place that was surrounded by a chain-link fence and barbed wire. A place that let you in and did not let you out. And at the bottom of all of this flashed a river, heading away.
The buildings are gone but the developer let the cemetery stay. Who knows? Maybe it is protected by some sort of oddball conservation effort. Conserving grief? Pain? Aloneness? Despair? Death?
Ahhhhhhhh, but the rich live all around it.
Even ivory towers cannot mask oppression in the soil.

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Ouroboros in the Park

Japanese anemone flowers open blush pink petals in the park.  Their tall, delicate stems hold up the tender flowers, and in the centers glow tiny pistil-laden suns. Furry carpenter bees buzz in a frenzy, adoring the tiny suns. Like all true worshipers, they circle round and round the yellow centers, smearing themselves in joy and pollen.

I also circle a center, but the object of my adoration is the park itself. As the path guides me around and around, my body, full of the usual tensions and distresses, takes the cue, finds the beat and the measure and walks to it.

The English Romantic Poets of the early 19th century were great walkers and believed that walking was essential to writing to poetry. With the body busy, the mind can walk freely, investing in its visions and tunneling down into what were previously subterranean thoughts.

This small park is my open field, my verdure, my ramble through hill and dale. My feet move on, sometimes slowing to a near pause, other times hurrying, suddenly propelled by a new and vivid notion.

About the fifth time around, a sort of mesmerism occurs and I fall under the trance of the day. The circle becomes a mantra uttered by my feet—knees, hips, shoulders, and arms follow along and we head down the path. I must walk, I must keep walking, I must continue to walk and the resolution becomes a reassurance as a cool breeze fills my lungs; I am alive and refreshed.

I pass under the oaks and dodge their falling acorns. Sometimes I entertain the notion that squirrels are hurling them, but when I catch sight of their small triangular faces they look as startled as me. It is the oaks themselves that are throwing the acorns down. I momentarily consider bringing an umbrella, opening it when I walk under the oaks, but this an old consideration that I’ve been contemplating for years of autumns and I’ve never acted on it. Instead, I dodge and the squirrels stare hard.

Finally I have to go but the revolutions and bees in the park stay with me even after I leave, continuing  with their wheeling. They pass through the days and nights, rapturous and serene, monotonous some days and a miracle on others, and on most days both. They exist in the circle that is sometimes opened, sometimes closed. Within the circle, everything changes and nothing changes each time we pass through.

 

Kazuaki Tanahashi, Miracle at Each Moment

 

Pocket-Sized Photo Diary

There are small moments that must be filled. They open and expand while waiting in doctors’ and dentists’ offices; in long, slow moving grocery check-out lines; or in those few, empty moments before leaving the house or office for another destination. Staring into space is my favorite pastime and generally fills up all the minutes given (and much more), but there are other waiting times when my spirit needs a gentle pick-me-up without doing much conscious work.

That’s when I open the Photo Album on my phone and start scrolling. I discovered this delight quite by accident while lounging in my therapist’s waiting room one afternoon. I was feeling flattened by living with PTSD and other health issues, and I wanted muster up a little hope before I went into my session. So in a despondent, weary way, I opened up the photo album app. To my surprise, I was greeted by pictures of flowers, landscapes and book excerpts that I had busily taken days ago and had already forgotten. I scrolled back farther and it was much the same, mixed with pictures of friends, family, pets, and friendly dogs I had met on my walks.

I discovered my photo diary which had been my pocket all this time. “I never travel without my diary,” Oscar Wilde wrote. “One should always have something sensational to read in the train.” It still holds true; nothing is so interesting as what we took notice of days ago, weeks and months ago, be it written in a journal or snapped with a viewfinder.

As days spin into weeks, months, and years, it is hard to catch hold of any kind of underlining rhythm or purpose. A photo diary offers a kind of consolation. There’s nothing sublime there, it simply marks changing seasons, interests, travels, and friendship. But perhaps on the difficult days where everything is too much including our own thoughts, a photo diary is a moment of gentle release. The lightness of ephemerality eases the heavy load of living.

 

“But life itself is short, and so you are terribly agitated by everything that is eternal.”

–Eileen Chang, On Music