Wednesday, March 27, 2013
Stream of Consciousness
I had a friend in high school who was a hippie writer. She lived with her family in a two-story colonial house in downtown Santa Cruz and although she didn't know I thought of her as a hippie, she definitely called herself a writer so she would have been proud of atleast have of my description of her. She had long blonde hair with brown streaks and only washed it about once a week but somehow it was never dirty, just organic, natural, earthy, as she called it. Whatever it was, it didn't hinder her popularity to steer clear of shampoo. She was very popular. We went to school together and were practially best friends even though I was a tomboy who mainly wore jeans and sweatshirts and played every sport that had a ball. She wore loose fitting, layered clothes that had whimsical patterns that looked like they belonged on a eco-friendly Hollie Hobbie. She was not athletic - no, actually she was a total klutz, atleast that is how she appeared, but I couldn't be sure because she was what I called an "intentional dingbat." In softball during P.E. she would hit the ball and run to third base on purpose because she thought that boys would think she was prettier if she acted like she knew nothing about sports. I'm so voluptously feminine I have no idea what base I am on! I loved sports so I found this annoying. She loved boys and found it cute.
She also loved to write. There, we had something in common. She wrote more than I did, though. I was a "budding" writer and she was a full blown rose. She'd write and write and write and when she did, she would describe her writing as "Stream of Consciousness."
And to top it all off - her name was Heaven.
No, I am not kidding. Now you probably understand why I called her a hippie.
Heaven would write profusely in a purple cloth journal with a pencil or a Papermate eraseable pen she carried around with her, because this was before personal computers. The next best thing to pencil and paper was a Brother type-writer and while it was fun to use the correction feature and watch the ribbon jump up and white-out your misspelling, those suckers were cumbersome and they weren't great for "Stream of Consciouness" type writing.
"What you writing Heaven?" I asked her one summer day as we sat on the smooth maple hardwood floors in her living room. She was laying on her side leaning on one arm writing away in her journal.
"Nothing really." She looked pretty intense for "nothing." Her hand clenched the pencil hard enough to wrinkle her knuckles to match her nose. Sheer off-white curtains blew inward toward us from every window downstairs. The warm sea breeze made me immediately space-out.
Heaven sat up quickly. "Listen to this." She said. It sounded like an order. An inspired order.
You can take all of this away from me
The jumping, the watching, the yellow honeysuckle smell of summer
I will still find my own
My own way
My own will
To swallow up all my memories of you
With big gulps of sun spent air and open forest play
Where giant snails like yellow bananas crawl on patchy, wet green
I can roll there and commit myself
Not to you
Not to the world
Not to my own senses or my belonging
Where I can't be taken.
She looked at me. I gulped. I was speechless. While her poem was beautiful, I had no idea what to say. My mind got stuck on the yellow bananas. We had seen a few banana slugs the day before when we were walking in the woods near her house and I am sure that is why they had showed up in this poem. They were memorable for sure. They looked like large banana-peel colored shell-less snails.
Heaven looked at me eagerly. Best to ask a question in times like these.
"What does that mean?" I tried to ask as gently as possible so it wouldn't sound like a judgment.
She leaned back down on one arm and sighed. She seemed slightly disappointed.
"I don't know." She said. Her voice sounded other-wordly. "I just write stream of consciousness."
I wanted to ask another question--"What the heck is 'stream of consciousness;?" but I didn't dare.
I was a pretty smart girl and a poetry writer myself. I had managed a 3.7 GPA so far this year and it would have been a 4.0 if it wasn't for algebra. And I had scrawled enough poetry in my Hello Kitty poetry book in elementary school to make my parents worry I was going to grow up to be a writer. But "stream of consciousness?" This was the first time I heard that phrase. It was an intriguing one. I liked it. It was kinda hippie, but cool. Like something a real writer would say. I said it out loud.
Stream of consciouness.
It didn't help me understand her poem, but I liked the way it sounded when I said it. Heaven nodded and went back to writing. Wow, Heaven, I wish I could come up with this stuff. I guess you have to live in Santa Cruz and not wash your hair everyday to be that in touch with your writing chakra, not squeaky clean living in Watsonville, the mid to lower class agricultural town I lived in just about 20 miles south. Good ol' Watsonville - Home of Martinelli's Apple Cider, a decent Motel 6, and enough strawberry fields to make it the perfect destination for a Strawberry Shortcake family reunion. Houses were humble and they certainly did not have fancy hardwood floors. They had carpet and if you were lucky, it was clean when you moved in. Our carpet was clean, but it was also Christmas green. I thought for sure my parents would hate it and put something else in, but they actually liked it. I thought it was horribly tacky; I love Christmas decorations, but I do not want to look at kelly green carpet all year long any more than I want to look at the neigbor's spray on fake snow "Merry Xmas" stuck on his front window since last Christmas because he was too lazy to take it off. It stayed up all summer and baked into a white crust on to his window. I'm stuck with it just like my Irish vomit colored carpet.
"You want to go get an ice-cream?" Heaven closed her book on her pencil, sat up and hugged her knees. Her blue eyes sparkled.
We sprinted for the door and Heaven shouted at her mom that we were going to the 50's Diner on Main Street and would be back later. We loved this place. It was just a few blocks away, kind of behind the Pacific Garden Mall and it had little jukeboxes on the tables.
When we got there it was packed and we had to wait a few minutes to get a booth. We finally took our seats and I threw a few quarters in the jukebox and as usual, chose a couple of songs by Sam Cooke. Cupid draw back your bow...Sam sounded like an angel I thought. Heaven could care less about choosing songs. She liked everything I chose. She would just talk over them anyway - chattering like a bird about schoolwork, friends, her family drama, the boys who annoy her and the ones she liked, whether she would have a date for the prom.
"Duh Heaven! Of course you are going to have a date for prom!"
Heaven was one of the prettiest girls at school. For one, she had long blonde hair. Sometimes I think girls can have a beagle for a face, but as long as they have blond hair guys will like them. I have a nice face and don't wear have as much make-up as Heaven, but my shoulder length dark brown hair didn't exactly allure the hunks my way. I didn't care, but Heaven did. She was as obsessed with boys as she was with her "stream of consciousness" writing.
"Duh? What do you mean 'Duh'"?
"Oh Heaven, you know you are going to get asked to the prom." I rolled my eyes. The waitress appeared and took our order for two tall root beer floats.
"I don't know anything!" She said with usual dramatic flare. She really should have been one of those actresses from the old silent movies. She knew how to fling her arms and scrunch her face in ways that made words superfluous.
I saw an opportunity to ask her a question.
"What is 'stream of consciousness'?"
She stopped wiggling and giggling and leaned forward on her elbows. I saw that one of her elbows went into a plop of water that she had spilled on the table during all her gesticulation. It wouldn't have been a big deal, except she was wearing a brown leather jacket. I pointed at her elbow and she yanked it back like it was on fire.
She dabbed at her elbow with a napkin and got a serious look on her face.
"Stream of consciouness." She said it out loud like she was about to make a speech on the topic, "It means you write whatever comes to your mind. You just let the pen go and whatever you think of you just write. Write it as it comes, baby."
"Oh." I said. She smiled at me like she was pretty proud of her definition, but then I realized she was really smiling at the root beer floats that the waitress coming up behind me was about to place on our table.
"Yum!" She squealed and grabbed a spoon. Heaven liked to "eat" her root beer float, one spoonful at a time. She would scrape off a little bit of ice-cream from one of the perfect round vanilla balls floating in the rootbeer, then spoon out a little puddle of rootbeer along the side of the glass and then lift it carefully to her mouth and slurp it down. I tried to do the same thing, but after awhile there wasn't enough ice-cream left to work with and trying to scrape off a piece of vanilla turned into more like bobbing for vanilla and too much work for the return, so I just used my straw. Heaven persisted, pinning what was left of the ice-cream to the bottom of her glass and then scooping out the vanilla floaties. She was very focused. We didn't talk much, but that was OK, we were focused on our treats and plus, we had been friends long enough to be comfortable with silence.
Then behind me there was a clang, then a thud.
I turned to see a man on the floor. He had been up on one of the stools at the counter and now was lying on his side, like a large sack of flour. His stool had somehow managed to stay upright. The two people on either side of him jumped up and leaned down toward him. A woman gasped. The man on the ground didn't move. He was wearing a white collared shirt and kacky pants and the bald patch on the top of his head was pointed my direction. Another man jumped up from a table by the from door and ran over to him.
"What the heck?" I said out loud. Heaven was speechless and wide-eyed.
The waitress behind the counter where he had been sitting immediately got on the phone. Our waitress headed her direction. The man who had gotten up from the table attempted CPR, pumping on the man's chest and blowing into his mouth in short bursts. The man on the ground looked dead. His cheeks puffed with each breath, but other than that, his body didn't move. His arms were out as his side, palms up, and his shoes pointed in two different directions on the end of his splayed legs. His large belly protruded up like a cushion for the man performing CPR to rest on.
"Oh my gosh." Heaven said, holding out the last word. "Is he dead?"
"I don't know. Looks like it." I slid down to the end of our booth to get a better look. Nobody was eating. Everyone was staring and there were muffled whispers, nervous chatter, the sound of the phone being hung up and then a baby began to cry. The mother took the child outside and some people used her exit as a chance to escape themselves. I felt a little sick to my stomach.
"What do we do?" I asked, but I wasn't really expecting an answer. There was nothing to do. Everything that could be done was being done. Everyone else was just supposed to stare or go on eating, or look concerned. Most did the latter.
I turned back around in the booth and Heaven wasn't even looking at the man. She was leaning over her journal, pinning it down on the table with one hand, writing furiously with the other. I knew better than to interrupt her when she was in "Writer's Mode" as she called it. What is she writing about? Since I couldn't ask, I thought, "Well, she just went from a la mode to Writers's Mode!" I chuckled to myself, pleased with my cleverness. See I am a writer, too. Maybe not like Heaven, but I come up with some good stuff once in awhile. One of my poems, and it wasn't even one of my better ones really, ended up winning 2nd place at the County Fair last year. Big red ribbon. I decided to wipe the self-congratulatory smirk off my face when an older woman in the booth next to me looked at me like she couldn't believe I was actually smiling at a time like this. I looked away ashamed and back at Heaven. She was still writing.
Stream of Consciousness. I thought.
Wait a minute. She's doing "Stream of Consciousness" while some poor guy lies unconscious right over there? How can she write in a time like this? WHAT would she write in a time like this? I like to write when it is quiet or when everyone else is busy with something else like watching TV or doing homework or something, not in the middle of a 50's diner during peak lunch time hours sorrounded by a bunch of chattering tourists and screaming babies. That is why I picked Sam Cooke on the jukebox. He seemed to simmer everyone down a little.
But not Heaven. When writing calls, she answers. Even in the midst of total chaos. Even if someone is dead just a few feet away.
Stream of consciouness.
Write whatever comes to your mind.
Write it as it comes, baby.
So I did.
And here it is.
All these years later.
I'm forty one now. Heaven is long gone. I have no idea what happened to her, no idea where she lives, no idea if she went on to be a published writer or a hemp dealer. I am sure she is writing. Somewhere. Somehow. She is probably using a computer now, though. Or maybe not. Maybe she is still chewing on her eraser, still using those little sparkly plastic callous gards and scribbling away inside a purple notebook with a rubber band closure. Or maybe she has changed her name and is some famous author and I have actually read one of her books, or one of her short stories or articles, but just didn't know it.
Maybe she is married and has seven kids with names like Flower and Brighton and Ken-Po and writes a "Mom blog" with make-up tips, 15 minute dinner recipes and insight on how to go shampoo free without showing it. Maybe she still lives in her parents' house in Santa Cruz and takes her kids to the diner for root beer floats. Maybe when they get there and sit down, she tells them the story of the man falling backwards and the nice CPR guy and the ambulance and the Santa Cruz Sentinel headline the next day that read: "Michigan Tourist Dies in Diner" or maybe she makes up a happy ending - the one she wrote up that very day inside her journal at our booth and her kids scream "Mom you ALWAYS tell us this story! Give us a quarter for the jukebox, PLEEEEEEEEEESE!"
But here I go again. Just writing whatever comes to mind. I'm really going Stream of Consciousness here.
Heaven would be proud.
-Hope Horner, 2013