Victoria S. Hardy

Victoria S. Hardy

Friday, April 24, 2015

A Day in the Ghetto

A Day in the Ghetto

Living in the ghetto can be inspirational, nerve racking, and at times, frightening.  This neighborhood wasn’t born to be a ghetto, at one time when the mills were in operation it was a beautiful area with corner markets, gorgeous churches, and downtown shopping a short ride or walk away.  The world changes, though, and as shopping moved from downtown, and awkward highways cut through and loomed overhead, the terrain and the livelihood changed.  Pulling into this area from any direction can be daunting as one simply can’t help but see homeless people, drug dealers, and prostitutes lingering on corners.  

My husband and I are not rich people, and the thing with artists is that we often find the act of creation far more important and satisfying than a new car, fancy house, nice clothes, or expensive vacations.  We live as inexpensively as we are able, and value time to create over money for extras.  My husband is a musician who has put out eight albums in nearly as many years, and as you know, I’m a writer, publishing my work as the muse allows.  We don’t have agents or record deals or publishers, we just feel the need to put out our work and leave our own legacy, whether or not the world cares.  Due to this internal drive we’ve made choices and try to live cheaply as we can.  Ours vehicles are old and long paid off, we plant gardens and keep chickens, when our hair gets cut we do it ourselves, we buy our clothes in thrift shops, and if a big purchase is made we do a lot of research before we commit.  It’s not bad for an artist’s life; we’re close to town where he can play gigs, and where I can sell homemade goods at the local market or go to a book signing at the local bookstore. 

I remember the first time Chris took me to Boston when we were dating.  “Don’t smile at strangers on the subway,” he warned, noticing that I often smile at people.  I listened to him and didn’t, as I was in an unfamiliar place, and he reminded me of that today when I found myself in an uncomfortable situation. 

A man cutting my neighbor’s grass offered to cut ours and I accepted.  Now usually I love cutting grass, but I have found in this neighborhood it’s not always the best thing to be on the street.  It only took me a few offers from men for a date when I was raking or out with the lawnmower to make me shy away from the front of the house. 

Before the man started on the yard he asked me for a sandwich, I looked at the rope holding up his pants, and said, “I have peanut butter.” 

He acted as though I insulted him and commented that all folks in our community had money, and peanut butter made him itch. 

“We’re just poor folks here, artists and musicians,” I said stupidly.

“You’re musicians?” His eyes sparked.

“No, our landlord is a musician,” I dodged.  “We’re just poor people and all I have is peanut butter.” 

He looked me up and down, making me uncomfortable, and then shook his head, walking over to his lawnmower.  He took his time, stopping for many rests for such a small yard, and most of his breaks were spent talking to the ladies passing the house or yelling at cars driving by or answering his cell phone.  Finally, I stepped across the street to speak to my neighbor, Kathy. 

I don’t know much about Kathy except that her family has lived in this neighborhood for more than sixty years and she knows everyone on the street, she loves animals, and her yard is always pristine.  I asked if she knew the guy cutting my grass as I’ve seen many different people working in her yard.  She said she didn’t know him and that he had asked her for a sandwich and a belt and had mentioned he’d just gotten out of jail.

“Well, that makes me a little nervous,” I said.

She looked over my shoulder, at him looking at me, and nodded her head.

“Chris has a gig in just a bit.” 

“You have my number?” she said, watching him.

“Yes, ma’am.”

“You call if you need me and I or my husband or my son or someone will be there,” she said, watching him. 

I thanked her and stepped back across the street, paying the man, but he didn’t leave.  He was waiting for my neighbor to come home to pay him and he was in the street, stopping cars, I suppose of the people he recognized, and talking to the ladies. 

Funny thing happened then… now I long for a place in the country, where I can stand in the yard and not see another house or hear another human voice, and I often lament of living so close to people, but then I saw my neighbors suddenly find a reason to be outside.  I saw two neighbors playing basketball with one of those portable nets that can be set on the street, big guys I’ve literally never seen before, and Kathy’s son decided to blow her lawn with his American bulldog barking inside the fence.  Another group of neighbors come out and sat on their porch talking and laughing, but I felt keeping their eye out.

My neighbor returned, loading the man and his lawnmower in his truck and taking him away, and as they drove off I watched my other neighbors slowly finish their outdoor business and step back in their houses.  I think I was both awed and humbled at the same time.  I barely know these people, keeping inside the fence with my chickens and cats, trying to be a nice person, and only really getting involved when there is an accident at the crossroad outside my door.  To see so many people suddenly appear on what I felt was my behalf was a humbling message for me. 

Sometimes I grow impatient with the world and circumstances, sometimes I don’t always realize that I am where I am until God decides the next path, sometimes I just want to push forward to what I see is the next place, without appreciating where I am.  I’m a big believer in self-motivation, changing the future, and pulling yourself up by your bootstraps, but I am also humbly realizing that there is a plan for each of us that we don’t always control. 

Patience has never been a virtue of mine, I have my gifts, but patience is simply not one of them.  Sometimes I want what I want when I want it, and most times it’s not as simple as a new pair of shoes or an outfit.  I have lamented over living in the ghetto, the fear of stepping out of the front of the house lest some fool stops and asks me for a date, I have bemoaned the noise, but I am beginning to understand I haven’t been taking in the blessing. 

No, I don’t actually know my neighbors, but I do know I’ve helped a couple of their kids hit in the street.  No, I don’t always like their noise, but they don’t complain when the band comes over to practice.  No, I don’t appreciate their family get-togethers that can last long into the night, but I certainly appreciate when those same families come out to keep an eye on me. 

So here I sit, humbled and feeling safe. 

Sunday, April 19, 2015

My Father's War on Sound

 My Father's War on Sound

I grew up in a home that didn’t encourage the noise of children, it seems my father’s hearing was damaged during World War II and sound could be either muffled or painfully amplified.  My father was also a writer and a researcher so I imagine he prized the quiet time that is not always provided with children in the home.  Games with bouncing balls were forbidden, the television volume was kept so low we children would lay directly in front of the box, straining to listen, it was not uncommon to hear phrases like “go outside if you’re going to laugh”, and stereos always came with a set of headphones. 

My father did enjoy music, though, in the era before basses and drums carried such a strong backbeat.  I still remember listening to Nat King Cole or Jackie Gleason albums, with strings and smooth vocals, and actually enjoying them despite my own record collection being filled with Black Sabbath, Heart, Pink Floyd, and The Kinks.  As a child my father’s idiosyncrasies about noise irritated me and I doubted his hearing issues and assumed, as most angst-filled teenagers do, that it was just another method of control.  Later in life when I married a bass player and picked up the drumsticks and played in a duo with my husband for seven years I joked about how I never could have learned drums while still living at home. 

I understand that many people like to have noise in the background while they perform the tasks of living, a TV or radio playing while they do laundry or work on a project, and even I enjoy a little distracting noise while I’m sewing.  The world has changed a lot since the simple times of the seventies when I was a child, and noise has grown along with the population growth spurt, and as much as we loathe, at times, comparing ourselves to our parents, I am finally beginning to understand my father’s war on sound. 

Sound is frequency, a physical wave that disrupts and vibrates, and sometimes violates, molecules.  We can see it easily when we put a glass of liquid on a speaker and watch the movement inside the container.  We can feel it when walking into a nightclub, the throbbing bass an actual physical experience. 

People are noisy, there’s no two ways about it, we talk, we sing, we yell, we laugh, we cry, and those sounds reach the air, disturbing it, and traveling.  Cars are noisy, not just the low or loud hum of motors, or wheels against concrete, but also elaborate sound systems that vibrate the windows in the houses they pass.  Our technology and modern conveniences - as just now I am listening to the refrigerator humming in perfect F#m7 chord, which has been hotly debated by every musician who has lived in this house before us - are noisy.  The wifi we seek on the streets and which I will use to post this article on my blog leaves a hum in its wake, a virtual wave on the water of sound.  The world’s governments and war machines use sound as a weapon, and it doesn’t take a long search to discover the tools that are used to disrupt protests or the stories of using heavy metal music to ward off sleep from prisoners under interrogation.

I write this now after having spent a month writing a new novel and fighting against the sounds around me.  I finally understand my father, which is a blessing for both of us, as I struggled under the weight of displaced molecules and tried to hear the small voice inside.  I grew angry, as my father before me, that the air could be so needlessly and uselessly corrupted.  There are sounds that are natural, water against rock, the wind rocking the branches above, birds cooing or calling or scratching in the leaves, and then there are the unnatural sounds that leave us unsettled. 

I may have not noticed this had I not felt the need to drive out of town, away from the city, and the hum that surrounds it.  It’s a strange thing to jump in the car near midnight with the intention to only drive and my husband and I made a game of it.  I remembered the nights in my youth when I’d sneak out of the house and walk, hearing the call of the lone bobwhite.  Sometimes I’d meet a boy innocently, where we’d sit in the local park in the quiet, unable to find any words, and leaving without even a kiss, and would simply listen to the night birds calling before we had to head home lest we be discovered. 

So Chris and I struck out, giggling as though we were children again, and finding a dark place to sit and listen to the night.  As soon as I stepped out of the car, far from where the lines hung above, I wanted to just collapse from the release I felt down in my deepest molecules, a stillness inside that is impossible to recreate through drugs or imagination or meditation.  A sigh came from deep inside, my knees felt weak, and I had to lean against the car for a couple moments before I gathered my druthers and we set out into the unknown. 

We walked in the dark through knee high, damp grass.  I told Chris we didn’t need the flashlight he’d brought because I had “cat eyes” as I had been told many times when I was young.  Chris pulled out the flashlight and I laughed, as we were in uncharted territory and we worked our way through the grass, leaving behind trails that were easier to follow up, than the path down to the water. 

The ground had changed since the last time I passed, twenty some odd years earlier, but we found a place and threw the quilt on top of the high grass, spotting little eyes staring at us from the woods.  The silence, or at least the lack of city sounds, was a drug all unto itself, heady and entwining, and we sat, just listening. 

As I listened to the water flowing over sand and rocks, trickling gently, it was as though years washed away.  I wasn’t reliving times past, as much as reviving the simple quiet part of myself.  Owls were calling, a whippoorwill was trilling, and something heavy hit the water, swimming with a noisy purpose, which was different than the noises I was escaping.  At first we were startled by the heavy presence in the water, was it a gator?  Should we be afraid?  But then the bullfrogs started calling all around us.  I lay back on the quilt, feeling a heavy, heavy weight lift as my water-based body remembered its essence.  Another creature splashed into the water and began swimming and I wasn’t startled, and just listened. 

We heard the owls calling here and there, and sometimes I was sure they were twenty miles away making the lonely call and waiting for an answer, and then the answers erupted around us.  Chris saw a couple owls falling and then finding their wind power and darting, but I had my eyes closed, just listening, and breathing, and feeling a calm that made me want to stay forever.  

I suppose all this is my way of saying I wish we were a quieter species.  Humans really seem to like noise - high-powered cars, guns, stereos, TVs, and emotions, blocking out the soothing sounds of nature.  One sound tells us it’s all going to be okay, while the other laments with the complications.  One sound calls us back to our elemental beginnings, while the other insists there is no hope and we must stay busy to push back the eventual end.  One soothes us to a gentle relaxing sleep, while the other keeps us awake and anxious and alert.

So here’s to my father’s war on sound, I finally understand.    

Monday, April 13, 2015

Cats Cat and Writers Write

Cats Cat and Writers Write

Another novel is done, at least done enough for me to sit back and not obsess over it every moment.  As I wrote “The Thing Inside Lucy Doyle” I found myself writing and editing in my sleep, terrified that I would lose an important point or the entire plot.  I have a strange relationship with writing and the flow is not always there and when it comes it feels like a storm in the desert and I must put out every pot I own to collect the water lest I lose a single drop.

I found myself growing fiercely protective over this one, not just the words on the screen and in my mind, but with the ritual of sitting down in the quiet and letting myself see the story as it unfolded, and unlike other novels I have written, I felt like I was fighting forces outside of me attempting to hinder my progress.  Taken alone the small things that interrupted me: the broken keyboard; the replacement keyboard with the space bar that had its own ideas of how words should be formatted; the broken water heater; the social obligations and phone calls; the noisy neighborhood and the neighbors suddenly remembering my existence and knocking at the door, would not have bothered me, but during this one as the characters in the book fought spiritual battles, I felt I was too.

I am not the type of writer who can take six months or a year writing a book, when it comes it comes with all the urgency of a speeding truck or train and all I can do is hold on until it is done.  Everything I have written over the years has been completed in hours or days or weeks with barely the time given for food or sleep, much less social interaction or relaxation.  Urgent is the word and the feeling and when it is completed I am left exhausted and a bit depressed as I send my characters on to their happy lives or doomed futures and then I try to find my place in life again after having been swept away.

As much as I love riding the wave to its end it’s not very conducive to maintaining relationships outside of the pages of the book, and those around me suffer from my inattentiveness, single-minded focus, blank stares during conversation, unanswered phone calls, and cancelled appointments.  I imagine that is the curse of being a writer, or perhaps with loving a writer, so now it is time to issue apologies, finish projects promised before it all began, and dust off the social side of myself with a smile.  I also have to face the massive pile of dirty clothes, the balls of cat hair in the corners threatening to become a whole new animal, the kitchen floor that hasn’t seen a mop in far too long, the counters with the coffee stains, and the bathroom that needs a good scrubbing.

I also want to take the time to thank those who loved me before the tsunami swept me away, and who still love me as I find myself back on land, confused, hungry, and out of sorts.  Writers write, much like cats cat, and sometimes we disappear for a while, returning wild-eyed, exhausted, and hungry for a good scratch and joyful welcome.  

But mainly I’m writing this blog post because I checked in this morning and saw I had over a hundred unique views in a night, on a blog I hadn’t even looked at in a long time, and I thought, as I am prone to do, how odd.  How odd that folks still come here, how odd is it that they check in, how wonderfully odd is it that folks from all over the world sometimes drop by, and my next thought was, ain’t life grand!  So to you folks who stop in every now and again to read my words, and those who buy my books, thank you and thanks for visiting.