Writing in the Margins, Bursting at the Seams

Writing in the Margins, Bursting at the Seams: January 2014

Sunday, January 19, 2014


I've moved my site: http://kellygarriottwaite.com.

Hope you can join me there.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Unspeaking Words Spoken

Lukos slammed from the cabin, the flames of the fire recoiling in response. Aeliana stared at the door, strong and permanent.

"Your tongue is sharp, daughter." Bekka emerged from her bedroom, eyes wary.

Aeliana crossed her arms. "You never discouraged it."

"Lukos is a good man."

"He was wrong."

"You were wrong."

Aeliana's heart sank. "What shall I do?"

"Find Esther."

"The diviner?"

"She knows the location of all of the words ever spake."


"Scribes tell of a magical place, rarely encountered, but tragic and beautiful." Bekka gave her child a shove. "It is your only hope."
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Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Soapstone Sink

There's an old soapstone sink in my basement. Double-basin. Each side twenty-one inches wide and fourteen inches deep. Chipped here and there, like the concrete basement floor, which is webbed with cracks and protestations.

My basement. Full of cobwebs in the old ceiling joists where new electric frowns upon the old knob and tube; a foundation of antique bricks decaying in white flakes onto the floor.

My basement. Several rooms with old doors of scrap wood nailed roughly together, doors that, when shut, don't completely fill the frame, leaving, instead, a two-inch gap of darkness and possibilities: The old coal room with a rectangular cast iron coal-chute, now sealed shut. The room that houses the incinerator—a behemoth of scrap metal that sits, unused, obviously—waiting for a future unknown while the gas boiler in the main room—another giant—keeps my house somewhat warm. Also in that main room, a dance platform, one wall lined with mirrors where someone must have practiced ballet and dreamed of being onstage. A fourth room houses the electric box and a set of wooden shelves, where, if I ever cleaned them up, I could set jars of my homemade jelly.

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Monday, January 13, 2014

New Words to Say

The first time I saw the tree, with slants of red that glanced through bare arms that scraped the sky, I feared no new words could draw it. I was wrong: There will e'er be words to say.

This was written for this week's Trifecta Writing Challenge. 

On now to this week's Trifextra challenge.  This week we are asking you to count syllables.  And words.  It's a lot of math for those of us who might be more accustomed to dealing with words, but we're confident you can pull it off.

We are asking for a 33-word response to the following snippet:
The first time I saw. . .
Here's the catch: all of your 33 words must be one syllable each.  We're going low-brow on your this week.  Or not.  Can you class it up under these restrictions?  Give us your best.

To clarify, we are giving you 5 words.  We want another 33 from you, for a grand total of 38. 


Final Giveaway

I'm finding that I hate documenting every single thing that I give away. It's frustrating, futile, even, trying to find significance in meaningless things; things that hold no value for me: The too-small socks. The hardware we'll never use. The three hundred or so thumbtacks that were used to paper all four walls of my daughter's last bedroom with covers from Newsweek: faces of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, mainly, but others as well. These covers will not go up on my daughter’s walls in our new house, not because she's no less of a democrat, but because the plaster walls in this old home are unfriendly to thumbtacks, and even if they were more accommodating to those tacks, I would forbid her from putting up so many pictures in this new room of hers: When we put the old house on the market, the painter we hired had to double skim coat her bedroom walls before applying paint.

What I'm most amazed at, and dismayed by, is the realization that I have so much stuff to get rid of. In a world of need, I need to get rid of things. I am ashamed that I have accumulated so much to begin with, so much that I have a year's worth of things to write about. I am embarrassed to celebrate this giving away, this clearing out of excess in such a public way. As so, I will continue to simplify my life by shedding things no longer useful to me--but more quietly from now on.

I find as I give things away, they leave tiny gaps in my life like so many holes in a bedroom wall.

Gaps I will skim over and paint upon and, eventually, forget about entirely.

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Sunday, January 12, 2014

Great 365 Day Purge - Day Thirteen

I must have kept every single card my husband ever gave me in the twenty-five years we've been together: Anniversary cards. Birthday greetings. Christmas and Easter cards when we were engaged. Some, early on, with brief notes penned by my husband. Others--the later ones--simply signed.

Today, I recycled them all.

And my husband did the same with the cards I gave him.

But I did keep this note, written in my grandmother Alice's hand...a note I discovered shortly after her death...a note that records a conversation she'd had with her husband, my grandfather.
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Saturday, January 11, 2014

Great 365 Day Purge - Days Eleven and Twelve

January 11, 2014

Days Eleven (and Twelve!) of "The Great 365 Day Purge of 2014."

And speaking of growing...

I went in for my physical the other day. Had that horrible stepping-on-the-scale moment (after slipping out of my boots, of course). Height. Blood pressure. The whole bit.

The doctor told me my blood pressure was good. I thought it seemed high. She told me the standards had changed. What was once considered pre-hypertension was now within the acceptable range. My weight, too, is now acceptable: Apparently I'm just a smidge overweight, despite the fact that my BMI puts my body fat at twenty-five percent. As we've grown as a nation, the doctor informed me, the standards have expanded to accommodate us.

This reminds me of the day my teacher explained the changes to the grading system to my third grade class. Whereas before, a student needed a ninety-six to quality for an A, now, the only requirement was a ninety. Suddenly many more people became A students. And while I'm certain I benefitted tremendously from this deflation of standards (especially in chemistry, geometry and physics), the change felt a little like a cheat to me.
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Friday, January 10, 2014

Great 365 Day Purge - Day Ten

My son discovered it when he was nine. He found it, tucked beneath the bills and the Christmas cards, among the pleas for donations, the community newspaper and the thick stack of circulars from the grocery stores. It really should have been wrapped in brown paper.

My son. My pure, innocent son. He tossed the mail on the table and disappeared with it. I found it later, in my son's bedroom, lying on the floor amid a stack of books and a Lego set under construction. Its pages were dog-eared and wrinkled. The centerfold had been pulled out.

"This is mine," I said. "What are you doing with it?"

He grinned.

"You marked in it."

He grabbed the centerfold and opened it up. "Look."

Heirloom garlic and beans of all sorts...tomatoes...celery...basil.

"Where,"I asked him, turning the page of my favorite seed catalogue, "are we going to put three apple trees?"

He grinned over the top of his crooked glasses.

I grinned back.

* * *

Every winter, my father would get restless, forlornly staring out the window, hoping for a good snowfall so he could get out the tractor and begin plowing the drive. When the snow did come and the driveway was clear, he'd watch out the front window, waiting for someone to get stuck on the road so he could pull them out with a chain. And, when the day's chores were done, he would spend hours sitting in his easy chair, football game on low, planning the spring garden, as if, by this act of setting his vision on paper, he could rush the season along. He looked through his seed catalogues, dog-earing pages that piqued his interest, making a long list on a yellow legal pad: carrots, corn, beans, broccoli, peas, spinach, tomatoes…

“God is in the details,” he would say, as he carefully filled in the order blanks and sketched out that year’s layout. Then he impatiently watched at the window, waiting for the UPS man's delivery that announced the arrival of spring.

Today, I give up my CSA. For ten years, my family has participated in a farm subscription, paying anywhere from six- to twelve hundred dollars for two seasons of fresh, local, organic produce. I loved my CSA. I loved picking cherry tomatoes and eating themwarmed by the sunright in the field. I loved watching the sunflowers grow. I loved talking with the farmers and working our required eight hours: weeding, rolling out straw to keep weeds down, blindly reaching into lovely, loose soil in search of potatoes.

But now that we've moved, I've decided: This is the year to go it alone.

Today is the day I give up as much reliance as possible on othersgrocery stores and CSAsto feed my family.

Today I plan my garden.

I dig out my seed catalogues, pick up my legal pad, and begin to dream.

God is in the details and spring is only eleven weeks off.


Thursday, January 9, 2014

Great 365 Day Purge - Day Nine

January 9, 2014

Day Nine of "The Great 365 Day Purge of 2014"

I have in front of me fifteen "candles" - white plastic tubes screwed into gold plastic bases: made-in-China products that every year I set in the windows to celebrate Christmas. Based upon this year's performance, each candle chews through two double-A batteries and a bulb in less than a week, even if I go from window to window unscrewing the bulbs every morning.

Assuming I use those candles for three weeks a year, I could easily go through ninety batteries a season. After ten years of such use, my family will have used nine hundred batteries.

I unscrew the candles, shake out the batteries. These and the bulbs will go to my local recycling facility.

I have no idea what will happen to these batteries; these bulbs. Will they, indeed, be recycled? Or will they join the thousands of other things I have thoughtlessly placed in the landfill?

Sure, I could buy the rechargeable batteries and plug in my charger, but I have a better idea. Next year, these candles will not brighten my windows.

I will miss these candles, for sure. I love the way they look at night. But I can't justify the waste that goes into their use.

I put the candles in the giveaway box, hoping that this small spark will fan the flames of revolution in my home.

I don't need plastic candles to celebrate Christmas.

I don't need tinsel and wrapping paper and endless rolls of tape.

Celebrating Christmas requires no expense, no decorations, no endless, frazzled shopping.

All I need to celebrate Christmas is my family. A bit of time for reflection. A stack of books to read and ponder. Endless boardgames and mugs of tea with my husband and children.

I don't celebrate Christmas to grow the economy.

I celebrate to grow my heart.

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Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Who am I?

Viola opens the cabin door and stands in the doorframe, listening to the water drip from the icicles.

"You knew this day would come." Viola's grandson joins her at the door.

"Flowers will be here soon" Viola says.

"Why bother?" Charles says.

Viola turns to her grandson. "If I don't bother who will?" She forces herself to unclench her fists. "This is my life Charles."

She returns her gaze outside, anticipating the arrival of the spring flowers that she will use to prepare her tinctures and salves. Her healing balms.

"He's a portly man, sure enough," Charles remarks and Viola laughs, despite her promise to herself. She watches the way he picks his way up the trail, lifting his legs up high and examining the path before he set a foot down again.

"Man isn't accustomed to walking among briars and scat."
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Great 365 Day Purge - Day Eight

January 8, 2014

Day Eight of "The Great 365 Day Purge of 2014"

Today, as the temperatures claw their way up to the thirties, I let go of trying to keep Grey Cat inside. While Calico Catthe cat who adopted us in Octoberhas been enjoying her indoor respite, curling up on a feather tick and sleeping for hours, forgetting entirely about birds and squirrels, Grey Cat is angry: Kept inside the house against his will, he runs to the door trying to slip out between our legs whenever we take the dogs out for a walk, sitting upon the kitchen table when denied, intently staring at the action outside: The snow that's so cold it squeaks underfoot...the three-foot-long icicles hanging from the gutters...the occasional bird that flits to the suet feeder...the Christmas trees piled curbside...the recycling bins blowing down the street.

Yesterday morning, in a last desperate bid to escape, Grey Cat crawled up the inside of the chimney and sat upon the damper, peering upside down at my daughter, refusing to come down. He emerged, some time later, sooty paws tracking across my hardwood floors and, of course, onto the kitchen table.
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Tuesday, January 7, 2014


Charlie and Ruth liked to get to the diner early on Sunday, the old Buick angled in to a parking spot right in front of the diner's windows so that Charlie could ensure nobody was stealing his old Buick, not that anyone would want to steal that old boat of a car, Ruth always thought.

"Three eggs over easy," Charlie told the waitress when she tried to hand him a menu. "Sausage. Toast, no butter. You new here?"

The waitress blushed, fingered the lace at her collar. "Can you tell?"

"You're doing fine, sweetie." Ruth hated the way her husband was so darn bossy all the time, acting as if the entire world ought to know what exactly what Charlie Browning wanted. She opened her menu and pretended to study it, even though she, like Charlie, always ordered the same thing every day. "Half a grapefruit, please." She smiled at the waitress, noticed her name tag read Carolyne. She liked that spelling, liked the way it was just a bit different. "With a maraschino cherry, please." She regretted the second please. Charlie would tell her she was groveling later, in the car while they were driving home. "And two Belgian waffles, no whipped cream." She folded the menu and gave it to Carolyne.
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Great 365 Day Purge - Day Seven

January 7, 2014

Day Seven of "The Great 2014 Purge."

But I do not shred the Bible I've kept in my trunk for years, given to me during the short span of time when I attended Sunday School at the local Lutheran church. This Bible, Good News for a New Age, consists strictly of the New Testament and has several passages marked in pencil or underlined in orange highlighter, passages that must have spoken to me at one time: Luke 12:15-22...Corinthians 2:5...Romans 1:12...John 14:15.

I scratch out my name, neatly penciled in the inside cover, and put the Bible in the giveaway box.

* * *

I remember sitting in the family room struggling through the family Bible, trying to work my way through the begats, telling myself that if I didn't start at the very beginning and read every word, then my efforts were invalid.
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Monday, January 6, 2014

Great 365 Day Purge - Day Six

January 6, 2014

Day Six of "The Great 2014 Purge."

And since I am authorized to shred, today I shred an box full of index cards: Some are snippets of dialogue I've overheard and recorded over the years. Some are descriptions of characters. Still others are plot notes for a story I was writing.

I also shred an old passport from a college trip to Europe, a passport I thought I'd lost.

I shred cards from my bridal and baby showers; yellowed newspaper clippings; my final high school transcript.

I shred my high school graduation announcement; the program from my college commencement; three of my wedding invitations and one of my sister's, the twenty-five cent stamp neatly affixed upside down on the response envelope.

I shred two expired driver's licenses and an advertisement for a failed cleaning business a friend and I started.

I shred the results from some standardized test. A certificate of completion for a high school driver education course. The 8th grade occupational interest test, on which I reported I wished to be a nurse and showed no interest in writing.

I recycle the school newspaper that shows my class rank. The other newspaper that shares the senior confessions, in which I admit to, among other things, filling the soap dispenser in the boy's bathroom with mustard.
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Sunday, January 5, 2014

Great 365 Day Purge - Day Five

January 5, 2014

Day Five of "The Great 2014 Purge."

A break from the trunk this day. Today, I'm getting rid of the Dell laptop I crashed a year ago, spilling a hot mug of tea over the keyboard, destroying the motherboard in a quick sizzle.

I pull the hard drive out of the laptop and set it aside.

Another computer: Desktop. A slow behemoth of a machine that nobody uses anymore. Full of photographs. Music. School papers. Taxes.

I want to delete everything on the hard drive, format it a couple of times and reinstall Windows before pulling it, to make sure the data is wiped clean. In the DOS days of old, this would have been a snap: Get yourself to the c prompt and type del *.* before telling the computer to format.

I find my way to the c prompt, get to the root directory and issue the delete command. The cursor blinks once and I am returned to the impassive, uncooperative prompt. I run a dir command to check my success: All the files remain.

When I issue the format command, I'm told that I'm "not authorized" to perform this task. I wonder, briefly, who does have the authorization and how I can reach him or her.
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Saturday, January 4, 2014

Great 365 Day Purge - Day Four

January 4, 2014

Day Four of "The Great 2014 Purge."

Still excavating from my trunk. Disks, this time. Old three-and-a-half inch disks, contents neatly inked on the label: Database programs I wrote twenty years ago. Work reports just as old. College papers. My writing.

I break off the metal piece; snap open the plastic case. I withdraw the disk and slice it in half with a pair of scissors, hoping that that measure is sufficient to keep people from reading the data thereupon.

I don't count the disks I destroy, recycling what I can, throwing out the rest. It must be at least sixty. In years past, I've likely thrown away twice that amount.

Bits and bytes of my life, digitized; an existence represented by a series of zeroes and ones.

I tie up the trash and take it to the curb.


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Friday, January 3, 2014

Great 365 Day Purge - Day Three

January 3, 2014

Day Three of "The Great 2014 Purge."

What is it about trunks, these beautiful wooden trunks, that I hold dear? Why must I feel compelled to clutter them with the detritus of my life? Today, I withdraw from my steamer trunk four boxes of checks dating from the nineties.

My children will not know the joy and drudgery of check-writing, that neat allocation of funds here...and here...and here. They conduct their banking with their phones, and use their debit cards for all their purchases.

In response to the Target data heist, my husband and I recently requested new debit cards. In anticipation of the two weeks during which we'll be without cards, we withdrew a substantial amount of money from our checking account. It's been an interesting experiment, this temporary return to cash-only transactions. We can see how easily the money slips through our fingers: groceries...take-out coffee...movies...gas...Christmas decorations...a hundred dollars we cannot account for.
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Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Great 365 Day Purge - Day Two

January 2, 2014

Day Two of "The Great 365 Day Purge of 2014".

Today, I decided to toss all of the papers I'd saved from college, tucked away in the steamer trunk my father made me years ago. These papers range in length from ten to a hundred pages, those larger papers, of course, heavily padded with tables and graphs, and filled with the awkward, pompous, overly-intellectual use of "one" rather than "I".

One paper explores the possibility of exporting an Ohio-made product to Canada. Another, the potential economic development of a nation in which I conclude, "what remains to be seen is whether this nation's people are willing to take the necessary steps towards industrialization." My "marketing awareness journal" reminded me of the time when I wanted to be in advertising, writing jingles to convince people to buy the products I was pushing. But even then, I must have felt some tug of my future self, a self that knew that to promote a lifestyle of purchasing was to promote a life of loneliness and dissatisfaction.

A paper for Corporate Finance, complete with hand-drawn graphs of stock prices and PE ratios, recommended investing in clothing company Paul Harris. That company went bankrupt in 2001. A group project investigated how to market "lite" syrup. Another group project studied the culture of Saudi Arabia.

I had a paper on the "Chinese Culture". One on Dante's Inferno. Another I wrote about a freshman whose mother had died of cancer two weeks before the girl left for college, each paper hand-written in blue ink.

There was a paper that contained the typo, "they ass the west," circled by my professor in red pen, probably noted and left uncorrected in the hopes that the professor wouldn't pick up on the error: printing costs in the eighties were high, and, besides, the chances of securing access to a computer in the college lab were always risky.

Some of the papers are printed on continuous-feed paper, with tear marks at the top and bottom of every sheet. Some are on my mother's typing paper. Held to the light, I can read the watermark:

25% Cotton Fiber USA

The printers I used were either dot matrix or daisy wheel or made use of a type-ball--a golf-ball sized device covered with all of the letters and characters necessary to producing a term paper. Font changes, obviously, weren't an option.
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