The Hashtag, Mr. Griffin, and the Magic Metolius River, by Eric Witchey

The Hashtag, Mr. Griffin, and the Magic Metolius River

Eric Witchey

Peeing in a urinal underneath a print of Van Gough’s Starry Night feels a bit sacrilegious, but when you gotta go, you gotta go. At least I wasn’t staring at advertisements for drugs for erectile disfunction. I could only hope that the women’s bathrooms were as classy as the men’s, but I wasn’t going to check. Karen would have to deal with whatever neo-bohemian bullshit they used to decorate there.

Staring at Starry Night and a little grateful for having the bathroom to myself, at least until some other coffee shop denizen decided it was time to release their inner tensions, I decided my scouting trip had succeeded and The Hashtag would be fine for her writing hangout during our planned getaway.

By the time I had finished, walked back out through the minefield of tables, sofas, loungers, and spindle rocking chairs creaking away on the worn plank floor, I was sure. The last vestiges of doubt driven out of me by the low, slow tunes of Postmodern Jukebox’s “All About that Bass” streaming over the speakers. I reached the sidewalk outside absolutely certain that my search for her lair of creativity was over. In my imagined near future, I would go fishing, and she would create a nest in The Hashtag. It would be the perfect romantic getaway.

And, since I was already near the river, I got in my car and headed out in search of an ever-elusive bull trout.

#

Some rivers begin high on a mountainside and roll downslope like they are trying to win a sprint. When they come to the flats, they slow down and drop the mineral loads they carry as if they are too tired to carry their burden any further. Sandy bottoms, local runoff, and rotted vegetation give way to insect life, and trout are the inevitable outcome of that mad rush and panting effort.

This river, though, appears full and alive out of the side of the mountain. The fish may spontaneously generate in some hidden cavern space deep inside the dormant volcano. For all I know, they come through from another dimension all grown and hungry for insects.

Nobody can tell me they don’t.

The river sure as hell is magic, and everybody who fishes there knows it.

So, I spent the few hours I had flipping fly line before I had to drive home to the other side of the mountain.

Since the river is born inside the mountain, it has the same temperature year round. Because of that, the fishing is restricted to the gentle form, barbless lure catch-and-release only. And, because of that, the fish are huge and smart.

So, I often catch nothing, but I always love the experience of trying. And, after a couple of hours of trying, I sat down on a grassy spot a few yards from the water and just let the feather cirrus clouds, the scent of drying grass, and the sound of the riffling water fill me. I closed my eyes and lay back, and I just floated there for a while, full of river song and confidence that when Karen came to this place, she would have a magical place of her own to go to while I let my soul float over the water and the forest.

Maybe I fell asleep. Maybe I just found that meditative space that lets time slip by unnoticed. When I opened my eyes, the sunset had begun to turn the cirrus clouds a salmon red, a color I savored while gathering my vest, pole, and net.

The net tangled on a box—a green plastic box about the size of the cube of 64 crayons I had given my niece for her birthday. The oddness of the thing made me untangle the net and pick it up. I brass plate on one side said, “Robert M. Griffin. July 26, 1934. – Aug. 20th 2008. People’s Memorial Funeral Corporation, Seattle Washington.”

My WTF moment subsided as I realized what I might be holding. I almost dropped it, but instead I cautiously opened it to see if what I thought I had was what I actually had, and to my surprise, disgust, and concern, it was.

Mr. Griffin, or at least some of him, because I think if he had been there entirely there would have been more of him, was inside the box, rendered down to whitish-gray powder.

More carefully than I had picked him up, I closed the box, made sure it was sealed, and put it back exactly where I had found it, which I suspect is exactly where Mr. Griffin had instructed his loved ones to put him.

For a few moments, I considered opening the box again, pulling out the plastic bag, opening that, and loosing Mr. Griffin on the waters of the magic river, but I didn’t.

I couldn’t.

I hadn’t known him. I didn’t know where he wanted to be or why.

I did know that I had likely lain on the bank of the river in exactly the same place he may have once lain, and certainly where he now lies forever and ever—the cirrus clouds’ feathers and salmon-color overhead, the smell of the drying grass surrounding him, and the sound of the ever restless magic river washing across the land.

#

Five years passed before I once more sat on the grass where I had found Mr. Griffin. It calmed me deeply to find that he was still there, though he was harder to find because the grass had covered him and a small blackberry bush had pushed out in his direction to protect him.

Karen hadn’t liked The Hashtag. She hadn’t liked the river, either. The magic of it coming fully born and full of fish from the side of a volcano had somehow been completely lost on her. Eventually, the magic of us had also dissipated, and she had headed off downstream in the river of life while I still sat on the bank inhaling, watching, and listening with Mr. Griffin.

That was it. That was why I hadn’t tossed his ashes in the river-why he hadn’t had his ashes tossed in the river. To ride the water downstream would have been the death of the silence of the river in his soul.

I decided to revise my will when I got home. I hoped that someday, when it was my time to let go of the march of days, Starry Night bathrooms, and an endless succession of pointless places like The Hashtag, Mr. Griffin wouldn’t mind the company there, hidden in the grass under the blackberry bush on the banks of the magic river.

-End-

A Writer Finds Hope Amid the COVID-19 Pandemic

by Cheryl Owen-Wilson

I’m receiving varying messages through my artistic virtual channels.  Some of my friends are sheltered in place writing, and painting for hours on end.  Their creations, I am certain, will reflect the circumstances surrounding their current reality.  Those feelings, those never before felt nuggets, will flow through them onto a blank page, or canvas.  For some the message will be easily understood, in full display for all to see, while for others it will be hidden, like the Easter eggs I wish my grandchildren could be searching in my back yard on Sunday.

Then there are those who say they can’t seem to create a thing.  I hope for them to have clarity soon, because I find being able to immerse myself in any creative endeavor the best way to soothe my frantic nerves.

Unfortunately, I have not been sheltered in place.  But luckily, there are only a few of us working in the now closed facility, and we can easily manage the six-foot distances, and then some.  As a small business manager, I have been going to my quiet office and attempting to make sense of with the mountains of paperwork necessary to keep said business viable and able to reopen when allowed.  I hope to have dug myself out of this important task by next week. And like many of my creative tribe, I hope to be able to allow myself the grace to not force creativity, permitting it to instead flow easily, and at its own pace.

It seemed fitting since it’s National Poetry Month, and also because this poem begged to be written, that I carve out time to place it’s somewhat chaotic voice upon the page.  Is it the poem’s voice, or my own?  I leave you with these thoughts to ponder as you read on…

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C is for the many closets and cupboards which will be sorted and left spotlessly clean.

Who can sit to write when those cluttered spaces whisper and beg for a bit of much needed hygiene?

But rest assured, when all is put to order, your creativity will kick in.

The laptop, pen and paper,  will come out, and your writing will begin.

 

O is for the oath you took, once self-quarantined,

Yes, we all had this eloquent, if not, foolish dream.

To sit, and not get up until you’ve written at least a thousand words a day,

please for our own sanity, and those with whom you live, let that vow slip away.

I promise it will all be, okay.

 

R is for the mounds of reading you will undoubtedly get done.

Please don’t forget, when your massive pile is down to one, or none,

remember to support your local bookstores, in any way you can.

After all, when your books were published were they not your biggest fan?

 

This O is for those organizational skills not so readily seen, but who have now magically been awoken.

Those stories tucked in desk drawers and saved in computer files are calling to you. Send them forth, for they have spoken.

Now that it’s done, don’t you feel better?

No don’t begin to obsess over some phantom rejection letter.

 

N is for a different type of novel.  The one you’ve labored over for years, the one you know needs just one more revision.

Let’s let this one go.  Why, you can even call it your pandemic decision.

Think of the mighty fire it will create outdoors.

While you keep a six-foot distance as you roast yummy, melting, smores.

 

A is for all the other artistic skills you may possess.  Rip up that shirt or dress,

and make masks so those in need can stress, less.

Or what about planting something green, be it a flower or a vegetable.

Think of the accomplishment when you’ve grown something deliciously edible.

 

V is for the victory and validation you will feel,

when one of those stories comes back with a contract deal.

By then I’m certain you will be able to socially celebrate.

But if not, Zoom with willingly hook you up with at least one writing mate.

 

I is for the insecurities you will have as you sit quietly with all this time to think.

When it gets too much to bare, please call someone before you succumb to that 3rd or 4th  drink.

I is also for the abundance of imaginative stories and illuminating art that will be birthed from this pandemic.

I have been assured of this phenomenon by friends both alchemic, as well as academic.

 

R is for the formidable resilience each and every one of us will possess.

After we’ve come through this arduous cosmic test.

And what about all the budding new relationships that will be born,

as they visited virtual movie rooms, while eating popcorn?

 

U is for the Universal Unity which will ultimately defeat this foe.

Through our joint socially distancing efforts, we can, and will, stop its flow.

Then think of all the varying stories, from every corner of the world, we will write,

Of the time when human beings around the entire earth stood still, to fight.

 

S is for the symmetry this virus has allowed us to glimpse.

Dolphins swimming in Venice’s canals is not mere happenstance.

Where once there was death,

Mother Nature has been allowed to take a long, overdue breath.

Now it is up to we the human race to follow suite.

How do you feel about a socially sensible reboot?

 

What creative projects have you taken up, or completed as you shelter in place?

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When the Show Can’t Go On

by Christina Lay

© Daniil Peshkov | Dreamstime.com

Our regularly scheduled blog post has been interrupted to bring you this public service announcement: Keep Calm and Support Your Local Artists.

Yesterday, with one fell swoop, the seasons of two local performing arts companies ended prematurely and many others were disrupted when the governor of Oregon announced a ban on all events with audiences of 250 or more people, and our local performing arts center cancelled all performances for the next thirty days.

The Eugene Opera was set to perform Puccini’s great opera, Tosca, today and Sunday.  This was the big event of the season, the opera’s Reason d’etre. The cancellation is potentially devastating to the small company. Tens of thousands of dollars have already been spent and the loss of ticket revenue is a crushing blow.

For this blog, though, I’m thinking about the cost to the artistic soul and the soul of the community. Countless hours of planning, preparation, practice and rehearsal led up to this point. The opera had gathered not only several fantastic principal singers to perform, but a twenty-two member chorus, a children’s chorus of fifteen, an orchestra of fifty-eight, a technical crew of about twenty, and dozens of peripheral people who contribute to the production in some way.  Thursday night was the final dress rehearsal (I’ll kick myself forever for missing it). The music, the songs, the concentrated effort of artists challenging themselves to the utmost, all pulled together to a pitch-perfect level, all the confluences of design, staging, costuming, directing, conducting, all arranged, organized, ready, to culminate in…silence. An empty stage. An empty theatre.

Ironically, the blog I’d been working on before this took over my attention concerned my grim determination to complete a novel that is a year past deadline and about a thousand hours of mental anguish over budget.  I wrote briefly about how I considered abandoning the project, walking away from all that work: 86,000 words and two years’ worth of practicing my craft.  I couldn’t do it of course, couldn’t stop striving for that final “performance” that is publication.

I’ve always believed that the main driving force behind art of any sort is communication, the burning need to express the inexpressible, to span the vast gap between one distinct person and another, to escape the shell of our body and let our souls fly free. To not publish, to not perform, to not share, to slip the novel into the drawer and quietly turn your back on all that you’ve created, is an especially exquisite sort of despair. This, alas, is what the opera, the grandest of art forms, is experiencing, only they don’t have the choice to forge ahead. Toscawill remain unsung; in this instance, in this remote corner of the globe, the show will not go on.

I’m certainly not blaming the governor or anyone else for this outcome, but that doesn’t mean I can’t mourn the loss and in my own small way, make a plea.

Eugene Opera isn’t the only arts organization being affected. The State of Washington has taken similar measures, and oh my god, Broadway Theatres are closed.  Italy, Puccini’s home, is shut. As we circle the wagons and go into crisis mode, I’d urge you, if you’re a ticket holder to a cancelled event, to donate that amount to the organization or artist in question. Even if you’re not, consider a donation to any group that’s hard hit. Beyond that, buy a book, a piece of art, a song.  Do not abandon the arts in these dark times.  This is when we need our artists the most, to give us hope and remind us of our common humanity, especially in times when isolation is recommended and communication is breaking down across all spectrums of society.

Yes, Toscawill be sung and sung again, but not our Tosca. And not today.