Bunkie [Short Story]

By: E.E. Blackwood

“Sitting here, thinking about it – talking about it – with you … I dunno, it – it makes me wanna go back. Try it again. Maybe this time, I dunno, maybe this time I could do it. Things were different back then, you know? I dunno. Maybe now it’s something I could do. I mean, it’s right there. Looming. Every time I drive by, there it is, looming at me in the near distance. Like it’s laughing at me, or – I dunno – daring me, or something.”

And that was it: biggest fear, maybe biggest regret of my life, out in the open waters of verbal existence. No going back. Just out there, drifting off with the echo of my own voice between my ears. Nothing else left to do except maybe sit back with my beer, take a nervous swig or two, and wait for a response.

Aunt Dorothy just kinda sat there like, with squinting eyes and an oval mouth, a wilting cigarette at her ear,  like the question of the universe was bashing at her front door. It was something to ponder, all right. Something I pondered, and have still been pondering ever since, ten maybe twelve years now. And now it was something ol’ Aunt Dorothy pondered as we sat in our fold-up camping chairs at the open threshold of her two-car garage, filled not with cars, but with decades’ worth of trash and junk she and Rick had been collecting since marriage.

“But it’s just right there, ain’t it?” she asked.

“Every single day, yeah.”

“Every single day.” She took a drag off her dart, eyes squinting deeper than before, and took a good minute for the dragon smoke to rise forth from her forward-jutted lower lip. Aunt Dorothy leaned back in her chair and went for another beer from the cooler between us. “You’re a grown man, now. It’s just a kid’s thing. Does it really bother you that much?”

“Some days, sure. Other days, not so much. But it’s always there with me, hangin’ there. More so now, than ever before.”

“It means that much to you.”

“It does.”

Then that was it. Silence now, for us to imbibe the blessed taste of ice cold beer on a day hotter than the devil’s Sabbath. My pain was out in the open with it, just floating, the echoes a long-forgotten thing.

“Summers make these things feel kind of worse. Thinking about it, yearning for it, makes me want what I could have had back then. The innocent summer, the carefree summer. Yearning for the feeling I once held so easily back then. The butterflies in my stomach, the glow in my heart whenever I think back, ten or twelve years ago. People say sappy things about going back with the wisdom of today’s experiences, but all I want is to go back, way back, and know what it may have been like to climb that Bunkie.”

“Nothing’s stopping you now, you know,” said Aunt Dorothy.

“But I’m an adult now. You said so, yourself.”

“A foolish thing for an adult to do, but who’s going to stop you? Let’s go.”

Aunt Dorothy was giving me this gesture, an excitable little motion as she half-lifted off her chair, a master calling her dog towards an open minivan door.

“Let’s go!”

“Wait, but we’re going to walk?”

“It’s not too far from here.”

“But what about our beer?”

“Where’s it gonna go? Chug what you got and come on.”

I didn’t want to, didn’t feel there was much of a point in it now, I mean, how’d it look, a grown man climbing up a Bunkie – a few beers and maybe a joint in him, especially. But Aunt Dorothy, the adamant thing she is, had herself shuffling down along the drive and into the setting afternoon light, bent over with her left snapping at me to follow, drunk to be had by any of the neighbours around her.

But I dunno, it was one of those things where you regret saying shit to people, like they lord it over you or something, family especially, and I mean, Aunt Dorothy is the only one I have right now – Rick too, I guess, when he’s not swingin’ ‘em back while the Jays and Leafs swing ‘em forward. But I mean, having someone who believes in you more than you do, yourself, that’s a damn thing, in and of itself, and embarrassing.

I sort of felt sorry for her, to be honest, and in spite of myself, rose to scuffle along to satiate this sense of rogue responsibility she likes to have for me so much. Maybe it was kind of exciting, I dunno, thinking about that Bunkie, and climbing up there with someone alongside me, believing I could be a kid again, so long as I aimed for it, myself.

It sounds so stupid, really, but it was happening, and the walk across town felt like a breeze in and of itself. And the closer we got to the Bay, the more it sort of made sense, that climbing that Bunkie was just the right thing to do, no matter the age, and with that came a sense of fear and hopefulness, I guess. A silly thing to admit, I know, but ten or twelve years is a long time to sit on something you wish you did back when those ten or twelve years were available at your disposal.

The dying sun was peeking around a tip of the Spirit Catcher’s wing when we crossed Kempenfelt Drive into Centennial Park. Couldn’t help but think: hey, there’s nothing quite like the setting sun. Many beautiful things in the world, but the setting sun? Eighth wonder of the world.

Then again, if the sun setting over Kempenfelt Bay was the eighth wonder of the world, the Bunkie, standing there just off the playground, had to be no better than the Ninth – as far as I could be concerned, no doubt.

The Bunkie is the tallest thing you’ll see in the playground, I guess apart from the cedar trees,  I guess you can say it resembles more of a tree house, but when you’re kid without much of a grasp on the English language yet, it’s expected to call a tree house a “Bunkie” because “Bunkie” is a word that makes you sound like a grownup. To us, it’d always and only ever had been known as the Bunkie.

Or, maybe, I guess it’s more akin to a giant-sized birdhouse. Yeah. You know the ones, they’re made of wood, painted up all folkart-like, and they stick in your garden on tall dowels or pipe. The Bunkie looks just like one of those, except with a ladder up its shaft, and a proper door and windows enclosed by a little wrap-around porch.

“Well there it is,” said Aunt Dorothy. It were like she were in as much awe as any kid seeing it the first time over. And really, I couldn’t blame her.

The Bunkie’s been a thing that’s awed me for years: nothing like it existed except for the littler bird houses I just described, and just gazing up at it with her brought all the excitement and horror and anxious feeling that crept through me back in those ten or twelve years was flooding through me like something I thought I’d long forgotten.

The only thing that kept me from climbing up that ladder back all those years ago was the rickety rungs, no better than flat slabs of splintered wood nailed into the shaft, all the way up, up, up, until the sizable-square-shaped gap directly above allowed for a kid to pull themselves up over the edge of the wrap-around porch.

And damn, I’d not thought in a long, long, time until now just how high up that porch looked.

“Well, what are you waiting for?” Aunt Dorothy sent a hard shove against my shoulder. It was one of those urgings, like she was excited for me to chase after my dreams, but to hurry it up, because the beer back home was getting warm.

“I don’t know if I can.”

“Why? There’s no one around. All you have to do is climb right up that ladder, and you can finally say, I’ve been to the Bunkie. That’s all there is to it, so get going! Go on.”

“I don’t think I can.”

She gave me an astounded look of frustration, but nothing could be helped. I was right. And I proved this by pointing her glowering attention over to a signpost neither of us had noticed upon initial inspection of the Bunkie. It was one of those waist-high black aluminum chalk board signs. You know the ones, they sit outside classy restaurants with the daily specials tied to clever, but forgettable, food puns. This one had white frilly lace that enunciated a cursive-written prohibition written on the rectangular board:

Use for Children Only. Height Restriction  4’8. – Thanks, Mgt.

“Who’s going to stop you?” Aunt Dorothy protested. “Someone gonna call the cops because you’re climbing a tree house? Climbing a tree house that’s smack-dab in the centre of a public park grounds? How is that against the law?”

The sky was dark and brown now, the sun almost completely vanished across the edge of the Kempenfelt Bay. Any daylight left crept with it across the golden sea, leaving all away from it a husk of what daylight kissed.

“It’s too dark now. I don’t want to fall.”

“You don’t want to fall? You don’t want to fall, it can’t be more than a ten foot drop. If you fall, you’ll hit the grass, great big deal?”

“I could break my ankle. What if the rungs are all splintery? What if my pants cuff catches on the edge of some bark, and I lose my balance?”

“So what if it happens? You fall and you get back up and try again. What are you so afraid of?”

Aunt Dorothy didn’t understand. She just didn’t get it. I mean, this was something haunting me for years now, not her, and I mean how could a person like Aunt Dorothy understand so easily from a single conversation?

“I wanna climb it,” I said, “But I don’t know that I can.”

And even if I could climb that Bunkie, the fact was, I wasn’t a kid – I was a grown adult, well past the height requirements, and who’s to say there weren’t cameras set up around the place to ward off your typical A-grade hooligans?

There was a parks grounds office just off the edge of the playground. I thought bathrooms were supposed to be there, and you know, I’m sure that building was, at one point, bathrooms, but it since looked remodelled to suit the needs of a groundskeeper. I headed that way without any kind of hesitation, and Aunt Dorothy was shouting at me from behind about the place being closed up for the night, but I saw lights were on in the windows, and I knew if I wanted to climb that Bunkie tonight, I’d have to talk to whoever ran the park this time of night, so there’d be no mix-ups and possible accusations of trespassings, or what-have-you. I mean, it’s an open park, I’m sure people taller than kids try to climb the Bunkie every night. What’s the trouble in seeking solace for just another stranger wishing to do the same?

So I went into the office expecting to enter into a lobby of some kind, but first step in, and I come face to face with a woman in dark business wear, whose size rivals that of the Buddah, both in girth and height. She’s there behind a desk, her whole body looking like it could spill out over the top of her work area if she took a breath the wrong way. And like, it was clear to me that the bathrooms were renovated to become this office, but for whatever reason, the size of the building itself remained the same, so the walls are so tight that the woman behind that desk looked like her shoulders could reach wall-to-wall easily, and the top of her neatly-tied hair bun nearly brushed the dust off the ceiling’s stucco.

“Can I help you?” She was gazing down at me behind menacing spectacles, like she had more important things to do.

“Yes you can!” Aunt Dorothy was calling out from behind me then. I didn’t even get a word in edge wise, she was so to the point. “We want to climb the Bunkie.”

The Groundskeeper gave us this look, like what the hell. “Why do you want to climb the Bunkie for?”

“Do we need a reason to climb the Bunkie?” Aunt Dorothy sidled up beside me, ready for a gun duel. She was being so stubborn now, and God bless her soul for it, but at the same time if you go in, guns blazing, right out the gate, who knew if I’d ever get a chance like this ever again?

The Groundskeeper thought this whole display was amusing, because she burst out laughing, a wicked and wild sound that shook the walls and made me, for one, almost deaf in one ear.

“What makes you think you can climb my Bunkie? The Bunkie is made for children. Childhood is a thing that has long-since left you in its tracks. So, what gives you the right to try to reclaim it now? If other adults see you climbing the Bunkie, then other adults will try to climb the Bunkie, too. That’s not why the Bunkie is here. What kind of image would I be projecting if I let you go and do that?”

“Because it’s something we’d like to do!” Aunt Dorothy protested.

“And so you come here, seeking approval, seeking permission when you could have gone and done so before?”

“It was the right thing to do,” I finally said. “Every day I pass the Bunkie by, and every day I think about that time when I could have climbed it, but was too scared to. And today, just talking about that fear and desire helped me come back to this place, and now I’d like to climb that Bunkie, just so I can say that I did, and feel proud of myself.”

The Groundskeeper was listening to me, she was nodding away like she completely somehow understood. It became obvious that what I was saying to her – she’d heard this spiel all before. That this hadn’t been the first time someone in my position went to her and told her their woes of regret and desire to climb that Bunkie. The Groundskeeper looked like she really, truly, understood.

But then she let out another wicked laugh and said, “No.”

“What do you mean, no?” asked Aunt Dorothy.

“I have an image to uphold,” said the Groundskeeper. “A reputation, don’t you see? As I said before, if I let you climb the Bunkie, then everyone else will want to climb the Bunkie. And then the Bunkie will be crowded at all hours of the day – no space left for the children to go. Where do you suggest that the brave children, who wish to climb the Bunkie themselves – where do they go? What do they do? Do they grow up, regretting the fact that they could not climb the Bunkie themselves, and come to the next Groundskeeper after me, and beg him or her to climb the Bunkie then?

You see the unfair position you corner me into, don’t you? The never-ending cycle of entitlement and regret. All because you weren’t brave enough to climb the Bunkie when you had every opportunity to. That’s not my problem. It’s yours, and yours alone. Do what you were meant to, and grow up. Move on. Get a hobby, for the sake of your pathetic self. A hobby that does not include climbing Bunkies, that is.”

Aunt Dorothy, she started to protest loud and angry now, but what else could be done? That was it. There was nothing left of it. We left the Groundskeeper’s office with her maniacal cackle in our ringing ears.

As soon as we stepped back outside, a door locked behind us, and when we looked back at the office, a closed sign flipped into view over the sidelight. Then all windows went dark, and there was only silence between us.

When we turned back to face the Bunkie, it was no longer there among the swing sets, and the jungle gym, and the tetherball court, or the picnic grounds, beyond. It was like the Bunkie was never there to start with. But I could see its outline, burned so deeply into the folds of my memory there. But it wasn’t there.

Not anymore.

There was just Centennial Park now, and the outline of the Dream Catcher looming in the distant night. It was staring at us as we trod the grass, all alone with nothing to show for doing the right thing. The Dream Catcher just loomed at us. And with it came the lull of the distant waves against the ringing in my ears.

“Oh well,” I said.

And that was it: biggest fear, maybe biggest regret of my life, out in the open waters of verbal existence. No going back. Just out there, drifting off with the echo of my own voice between my ears.

We crossed Kempentfelt Drive out of Centennial Park, and headed back to Aunt Dorothy’s place. The walk was long and quiet between us. What else was there to talk about? Our beer was probably bugger warm now. We’d left the garage door wide open for people to snoop and pick at the ten-or-twelve years’ worth of trash and knickknacks horded away like emotional safety blankets. But what could be done about it now?

Nothing else left to do except maybe sit back with a beer, take a nervous swig or two, and wait for tomorrow to come.

 

The End

 

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5 Tips for Unfocused Artists

authorday

 

It’s ten minutes to 1pm on a Sunday afternoon, and the last thing I want to do is sit here at this computer and form words together on a word processor.

At least, that’s what my body is telling me:

There’re dishes to do.

Laundry to put away.

Brunch to cook and eat.

A shower to have.

Groceries and hormone medication to purchase.

And a mother to go and visit – long, long, overdue.

And yet, I have been aching — physically crying out — to sit down and write, all weekend. I want to be here. I want to sit down at this desk (technically breakfast bar?) and reconfigure the last problem area in Book of Wind, so that I can finally move on to something else (Hopefully, Eri book 2).

I’ve been sitting here since 9 o’clock this morning, listening to the Happy Console Gamer and the Diablo 1 OST with pieces of a new chapter spread across three different open documents, Wikipedia tabs open pertaining to the geographies of Scotland and Ireland, a dictionary.com definition of ocean firths, a Google images search for “firth” (resulting in an endless wall of Colin Firths), not to mention bringing up inside jokes with my live-in partner about Shinji Ikari’s cousin from the southern states, Corncob Ikari, to which I am being verbally assaulted for merely mentioning here and now in writing (“How dare you reveal our secrets? I’m mad right now.”), and nothing to show for this newly-revised chapter other than mental exhaustion and a bladder full of coffee and Jade Citrus Mint tea.

I know what this chapter looks like. I know what needs to happen and where it needs to go. Its contents are easily-visualized in my imagination. It’s just a matter of sitting down and doing it. Putting the time in, powering through, distraction-free.

 

corncobikari

And you bet your buns I took necessary time away from writing so that I could make this picture of Shinji’s American cousin, Corncob Ikari. He’s a farmer from Nebraska.

Except, of course, it’s not that easy.

In my last blog post (I’m going to pretend it was last week, because this is supposed to be a weekly blog, right?), I mentioned the struggle of diverging focus on building a social media audience, when all of my energy wants to go to writing. Ultimately, this leads to mental exhaustion.

I want to write, I physically need to write. So I sit down, put on some music, and stare at a blank screen for as long as my body will allow until the sudden urge to get up and make a tea, or go to the bathroom, or snuggle with my cat, or joke with my partner, or all of the above, takes over.

Most every artist who dabbles in throwing words at a page struggles with procrastination and focus. My background is in journalism, and this problem was prevalent with myself, my peers, backed by evidence supported by our collective professors and mentors in the field. It’s no wonder why so many writers struggle with substance abuse: drugs and alchohol sometimes help bring down the internal walls guarded by Inner Critics and Overanalyzers.

And as someone who has recently discovered that she’s more than likely been living with undiagnosed Inattentive-Presenting ADHD for all of her life, the temptation to drown my unhinged thoughts and lack of focus with a brim-tall glass of wine and a few puffs of the ganja are pretty strong right now. Because, haha, Heaven knows downing twelve cups of tea and coffee in a row does the complete opposite of what I need my body to do, and I start to feel sleepy.

I’m sure some of you can relate to this sense of artistic frustration in one way or another. And it’s easy to be frustrated with one’s self-imposed expectations for “productivity”.

But I think the imporant thing to recognize here is that it’s happening, and to forgive yourself in the moment, and most important: try to maintain good humour about these frustrations.

When you’re able to recognize your “faults”, and laugh at yourself, the dehibilitating power of these issues we face when it comes to starting, and finishing, our art projects ultimately become lessened. At least, I like to think so. Sure, we’re still going to procrastonate, and become frustrated, and absentmindedly leave a wall of Colin Firths open in our Internet Browser (because fuck that’s funny to click on when we least expect it). But recognizing these patterns and why they are happening (be it internal or external forces vying for your attention) allows us some grace as artists to step back, have a chuckle, and utilize our imaginations as a problem-solving mechanism.

I mean, part of our job as artists is to problem solve, right? Whether you’re a painter, an author, a sculptor, what have you, we are all ultimately sitting down with a dozen or so intellectual pieces of a potential puzzle we’d like to solve (the puzzle being whatever project we’re working on, and the pieces being the literal vague or planned ideas we would like to incorporate into these projects). The only difference is that we are trying to solve a much bigger project: our ability to create in an efficient way.

So, for the sake of keeping myself on task, and hopefully try and help some of you who also struggle with these issues, I’ve come up with five ways to help refocus attention on the creative process. Here are some strategies I use:

Meditation: I’ve been meditating on and off since about 2014. My then-business coach  introduced me to mindfulness meditation and Buddhism at a time when I knew things in my life needed to change.

I love meditation because the practice isn’t so much about emptying my mind (like the media often portrays), as it is recognizing my thoughts and separating myself from them; recognizing thoughts as things that are independent from me as a person, and allowing these thoughts to simply pass by as I focus on the relaxing effects of deep breathing.

I typically can’t bring myself to meditate for more than twenty minutes at a time, and it needs to happen in a dark and quiet place where I can close my eyes, seperate from the rest of the world. Even a quick five minute session helps to ground me in a way where all stress and tension seem to just evaporate.

 

Listening to/humming instrumental music: I’ve always used music to write with. Even as a kid, writing stories on my brother’s pentium work laptop (he was a door-to-door salesman for Kirby Vaccum Cleaners), listening to shitty MIDI-quality songs from favourite video games and cartoons was an integral aspect of my creative process.

I say instrumental music works best, because of how distracted I can get listening to anything with lyrics attached to them. There are plenty of artists who can throw on AC/DC or Drake, or Glee: The Music, The Christmas Album, and create to their heart’s content with relative ease (Stephen King is my favourite example of this; the guy rocks out like nobody’s business when he’s creating.) I can’t do it, though. My ears focus on the lyrics instead of the words trying to form in my brain, and it’s just a disaster from there on out.

Instrumental music sets tone and mood of the scenes just as well, in my opinion, and because there are few to no words attached to said songs, the music itself helps focus my thoughts in a creative direction, driving out any other sort of mental intrusion.

At the time of this writing, I’m a Starbucks barista in my spare time, and the same tactic applies: because there can be so much to do and keep on top of (you’d be surprised how much there is to keep on top of, for a job that revolves around the serving of coffee), that I often find myself humming high-octane themes from some of my favourite video games (Final Fantasy II, Phantasy Star, DOOM) to help focus my attention and keep pace with my coworkers.

 

Smoking the ganja: I have a complicated relationship with cannibis. Sometimes it helps, sometimes it makes things worse. Cannibis has wonderful healing and coping properties, but I will be the first to warn anyone that its effects (both for better or for worse) differ from person to person. Sometimes I hyperfocus on otherwise neglected tasks (doing dishes, getting back to people’s texts…). Sometimes I’ll overthink every self-percieved flaw and have an emotional breakdown because I’m a horrible human being who should have recognized the signs that my ill cat had contracted something months ago, and should have taken her to the vet ASAP (Don’t worry – I did, and she’s doing just fine).

When I use cannibis, typically it’s for making art and writing. Because of the way my brain is wired, cannibis helps focus me in a way that nothing else can. It breaks down self-imposed limiting barriers, which for an artist, can be a supreme obstacle to overcome. There are no inner critics, there are no imposing thoughts of, “I have to do laundry, I have to make lunches, I have to pay the bills” — there’s just the hyperfocused ability to enter into your art in its rawest form, and simply create, or see problem scenes/characters from a different perspective.

The Master of Monsters was a project I struggled with for over a decade, until I discovered cannibis, and it’s no wonder why so many creative people use it. The stuff helped me realize a lot of problems in MoM’s narrative, and aided in the creation some of the best and most memorable chapters and plot developments not present in previous drafts. It’s still not a perfect book by any means, but it is a book that I can now proudly stand by as an artist who has matured and honed her craft.

In that regard, cannibis is an amazing tool for the creative process. It’s just important to try to not rely on it as a tool. Good writing comes from practice, and great writing comes from opening your work up to external constructive criticism and subsequent revising. Cannibis might help lower self-imposed walls, but it doesn’t make you a better artist; being in-tune with yourself and your projects makes you a better artist.

 

Working in a closed-off and/or uncluttered area with a lot of space around me: This one’s really important, and to some of you readers, is likely a no-brainer. Personally speaking, I need a lot of space to create. The table or desk needs to be at the perfect height in ratio with the seat of my chair, there needs to be a ton of natural light coming in from somewhere, and a tea kettle needs to be near-boiling close by. Working in a wide-open, distraction-free, area helps alleviate any chance of me feeling suffocated and needing to constantly get up and move.

Perhaps this point is more about harnessing healthy rituals than it is finding the perfect place to sit and work on whatever project is at the top of the list. Creating routine in your life as an artist is just as important as creating art. 

Whether it’s simply about getting dressed in the morning and having a cup of coffee before you create, or limiting access to all WiFi-enabled devices, or going for a brisk walk, or throwing on some amazing hip-hop beats, it’s important that you find what works for you and your muse, in order to be at the top of your potential that day.

 

Practice patience and self-forgiveness for the days that just don’t work out: This is a tough one. And is quite honestly, the most important point on this list. Some days you’re going to sit down at your desk with good intentions, only to stare at a blank screen for hours at a time. Sometimes external factors will demand your focus and attention on days you’re feeling most creative. Somtimes your body, or your mind, or both, will work against you in ways that will make you feel defeated and filled with resentment.

It’s easy to get frustrated with the lack of productivity. Being a creative person comes with a term I learned in journalism school, called “hurry up and wait”. Waiting for the ideas to come, waiting for inspriation to knock on your door, waiting for the caffiene to kick in, waiting for the end of this long and grueling process to be over, so you can move on to the next fresh and exciting idea that keeps knocking on your door.

Sometimes you have to buckle in and drive through these moments of inactivity. Sometimes you have to sit back and say to yourself, “Listen, today didn’t happen. I’m not okay with that, and this is why, but I realize tomorrow is a new day. I’ll try again then.”

Being real with yourself is the key point here. And for most of us, tomorrow will come, and tomorrow will offer new opporotunities to try again. And if it doesn’t, then it’s important to try not to be so hard on yourself.

When I’m feeling this way, I always know my partner and my close friends will be there to support me, and talk sense into me. Shit happens, right? Life will go on, and your project will get finished, so long as you keep plugging away and don’t give up on it.

Accept the day for what it was, recognize where you can improve, but most of all, be patient and forgive yourself when you think you’ve failed. In the grand scheme of things, you are likely more productive than you actually believe you are.

 

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