Categories
Grief Storytelling

The Sense of Grief

Akin to the “just a bad dream” trope, my sense of grief is this: something has gone dreadfully wrong with the Universe and if I just do this ONE THING, it will all revert back to normal. One sees this frequently in science fiction and fantasy films — the heroine on a quest to find a key, a portal, a magical lever that will right the wrong. Not unfamiliar with a strong work ethic, I slip easily into the task. And the expectation. Anticipating that each effort, no matter how small or insignificant  — an action as simple as opening a door even — may be that ONE THING. Now? It’s fleeting of course. The hard weight of reality always presses firmly on sweet hope. At some point, you accept the new way of being, that empty empty space, but not without the occasional beautiful moment of Now?… weeks, months, years later.

©2022, Jen Payne

Categories
Creativity Storytelling

Sleeping on Arch Street

A  100-WORD STORY

I slept on a cot near my grandmother’s bed in a room that smelled like eucalyptus. The aluminum frame squeaked when I moved, despite my small size and efforts to keep quiet. My grandfather slept in the adjoining room, his presence as unnerving as the Jesus portrait on the wall. The story goes he woke her once with a pitcher of water, threw it on the bed so she’d make his breakfast. I wonder if the train whistle ever disturbed him, pulled him down the tracks to the steel mill, back to the stacks and hot slag where he belonged.

 

 

 


©2022, Jen Payne.

Categories
Creativity Storytelling

The Fabric of Our Lives

A  100-WORD STORY

My first family was soft and warm, and covered me with enough love and affection to keep my heart hopeful for decades. My second family was threadbare, though, worn down so much that it hardly covered the dysfunction anymore, left me sick and unable to breathe. My third family fell apart at the seams. My fourth has been a patchwork of cotton and corduroy — thin in places, strong in others, woven together over time and enough to pull up to my chin, close my eyes and remember the little girl skipping, blanket always in tow, her Mom and Dad laughing.

 


©2022, Jen Payne.

Categories
Creativity Storytelling

Storykeeper

A  100-WORD STORY

I save their stories like scraps of stolen poetry. I know, for example, that she was conceived at the 1965 World’s Fair and that hidden above his left ear is a question-mark shaped scar. I remember the name of the child they lost, what she called the family dog, and that he wakes from nightmares as if in a back-alley brawl. Thief, collector, storykeeper — how easily I can tell the stories of couples in love and couples lost; about the pillow talk of lovers, the half-life of trauma, and the white-haired widow forever chasing a dog by the shore.

 


©2022, Jen Payne.

Categories
Books Creativity Storytelling Zine

SPRING 2022: No Other Choice

Waiting Room, John Register, 1990

Some of my favorite moments are those times you have no other choice but to sit still and think — the waiting times, the pauses, the storm days. I do some of my most creative work there in those unencumbered moments, those times in between the Busy.

I outlined an entire book during an MRI scan a few years ago. And my Words by Jen logo? I came up with that while waiting for a client to arrive at a coffee shop.

When I travel, I always show up early at the airport and sink into the slow wait of boarding and waiting and flying. Often, the tires hitting the tarmac come too soon — no matter what adventure is about to commence.

For me, there is something about that hollow space that gives my brain permission to go explore something new and unknown. Like Alice, following rabbits down rabbit holes and discovering things I never imagined!

It’s challenging to find those moments, though, especially these days when headlines have our rapt attention. When rabbit holes seem too frivolous in comparison to struggles and turmoil.

But as Carolyn Gregoire explains in her article Creative in Times of Crisis, “Art seeks to make sense of everything from our smallest sad moments to the most earth-shattering tragedies. It helps us to process and come to terms with the things in life that we can’t control and can’t really explain.”

“Any experience that shakes your world and challenges your assumptions can lead to heightened creativity and more authentic self-expression. Positive or negative, any experience that leads us into the unknown is also guiding us into the birthplace of creation.”

So, I encourage you to make time to explore that unknown, even now in these days of unending challenges. Give yourself breathing room, claim those unencumbered moments, and connect with your creative voice — it can be a solace, a grounding force, an anchor in the storm.

With Love,

Jen Payne

Categories
Creativity Storytelling

Sudden Death

A  100-WORD STORY

In sports, sudden death is a tiebreaker — two teams of equal measure play until one scores. In my family, sudden death was a torpedo in the East China Sea and a kamikaze’s final score. It was a flu pandemic in 1957 that meant game over for my 19-year-old aunt…and my grandmother, who never quite recovered her self. Sudden death was an 18-wheeler on a mountainous interstate in southwest Virginia — a certain game changer for my father, and for me who wakes more often than not with an adrenaline rush of grab the ball and run before it’s too late.

 


©2022, Jen Payne. Note: this showed up in exactly 100 words, first take, no editing.

Categories
Creativity Storytelling

Truth Bears Out

A  100-WORD STORY

It was Valentine’s Day, but we’d already broken up. I ended it days earlier because he never listened to me — not about extravagant gifts, not when I asked him to drive with both hands on the wheel, not when I said I was allergic to dogs. He also didn’t pay attention when I told him not to deliver the postscript Valentine’s gift furtively left at my door. It, a $75 teddy bear, was dressed in what he assumed was my regular working-from-home attire: suit, skirt, briefcase.

But removed of her conformity? I say: who couldn’t love a bear named Naked Betty?

 


©2022, Jen Payne.

Categories
Creativity Storytelling

A Hemlock Story

I find I have fond affection for the small hemlock under whose wide branches I sought refuge that cool October day. The soft rain having changed its mind turned cold and hard, and I — caught without a hat or jacket — had no choice but to suspend my walk for a while. And so it was I tucked into a dry spot beneath the hemlock at the side of the trail and leaned into her, perhaps for comfort or camaraderie — we will wait this out together. You can form bonds like that, you know, with trees. It comes almost instinctually, as if pulled up from some deep primordial well of remembrance. She was and remains like kin, and I wave when I pass her now. I like to think she nods back.

Categories
Creativity Storytelling

Rest Stop, Mile Marker 173

A  100-WORD STORY

The Garden State Parkway Rest Stop was half-way to my grandmother’s. We’d pull off the exit and shuffle into the rose-colored stalls of the Ladies Room.

Inside, near the pink-vinyl couch, a pull-knob vending machine sold hairnets, bobby pins, and rainhats neatly folded into pastel plastic boxes.

The Rest Stop burned down in ’91, years after we’d stop traveling as a family. But in my mind, it’s all still there — the soft golden light and tiled floors, the vending machine, my sister sleeping, Dad singing I Got You Babe to Mom in the front seat, his hand on her knee.

 


©2022, Jen Payne.

Categories
Creativity Memoir Storytelling

Christmas Wonder

A 100-Word Story

Much to the alarm of a grandmother, I picked up the baby and ran, leaving the Christmas celebrations in our wake.

Gathering festive crinolines around her tiny feet for warmth, we dashed out to the front yard, and I pointed up to the sharp winter sky. “Look, Little Miss, it’s the Christmas star!” And she laughed and giggled and leaned into me — a shared  delight.

“Remember,” I said, “That’s the star the wise men followed.”

Who’s to say, of course, if it was just a plane as I was admonished. The spirit whispered love and hope and sweet small wonders.

Photo ©NASA/Bill Dunford

Categories
Creativity Storytelling

An Odd Courting

A 100-WORD STORY

I assure you, I did nothing to encourage him. I was simply kneeling trailside, counting petals on a flower — he loves me, he loves me not, he loves me, he loves me not.

Then I heard him approach, footstepping through memories of trees scattered across the forest floor.

In his camouflage, I recognized fear and wonder, the wild and unpredictable nature of things, the magic of connection.

There was no amorous announcement to my ear, but a sound, a something sound I could not believe.

So as not to dash his hopes, I left quietly, wondering: do spiders really sing?


© Jen Payne, April 2014, From EVIDENCE OF FLOSSING: WHAT WE LEAVE BEHIND. Image: Princess Sotoori and Spider from the Series Zuihitsu (Essays) by Ogata Gekko, 1887.Click here to listen to the singing I heard: “Listen to The Creepy Sounds Spiders Make When They Want Sex.”

Categories
Creativity Storytelling

Memory Vended

A 100-WORD STORY

Downstairs, along a neon-lit hall of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, there’s an Art-o-Mat. From it, for $5, you can purchase small, original works of art. But I confess, my fascination with Art-o-Mats is more about their past lives than their brilliant creativity. You see, their artwork resides in old cigarette vending machines, and with each purchase I am transported to the Route One Dairy Queen, 1984. That very first pack of cigarettes. The sound of quarters dropping, the brazen pull of the lever, the musical-mechanical delivery of Marlboros on the offering plate below. The light. The smoke. Magic.

For more about Art-o-Mats and where to find one near you, visit www.artomat.org.

Categories
Creativity Storytelling

Silly is as Silly Does

A 100-WORD STORY

I met a man in the woods. He was going for a walk with his frogs…two Sonoran Desert toads, actually, along the green trail on a rainy afternoon. He had them in a cat backback, facing forwards so they could see as they went past the pond and around to where the stream crosses the trail. “What if he lets them out,” I ruminated. “They would die, it’s too cold.” “But is it? Gloabal warming.” “What if he’s conditioned them? Got them used to colder weather.” “This is silly.” “More silly than a guy on a hike with pet toads?”

Categories
Storytelling Writing

Hindsight is 2020

A 100-WORD STORY

In my version of the 2020 apocalypse, I lit incense and whispered fervent prayers to Saint Anthony and Ganesh. I started meditating. He bought a gun safe. It’s as definite in his living space now as the altar to Buddha is in mine. This should not come as a surprise. I have loved on the cusp of the yin and yang all my life, and it has been no different with him these past seven years. Of the first gift I gave him, he wondered: Speartip? Pestle? Arrowhead? “It’s a heart shape rock,” I swooned, our end-time a forgone conclusion.