Ascend - By Tom Brady 

Neither Jack nor Jill wanted to go up the hill. It was a sun-soaked day. The trail was dusty, and they were already thirsty. 

“I know this is something we should do,” said Jill, “but I'm so worn out from everything else, I have little energy left to climb.” 

“Yeah,” replied Jack.  “There has to be a reason to put out the energy to climb this one.  Lately, I think that all we accomplish is to see other hills that we need to climb. It's losing its appeal even though it's important.” 

“Sit,” commanded Jill. “Let’s talk about this,” She pointed to a log, and they sat. “We've always believed in the work that’s demanded to make social change,” sighed Jill. “Now, though, it feels like a burden, and a pointless one at that. Maybe the problem is that we're not young anymore,” she added. “Our job now is to courage young people to step up and tackle issues. We‘ll cheer them on and celebrate their victories.” 

They were silent, and content to listen to singing robins.  Jack finally blurted, “Do you remember the issues we tackled 30 years ago? We were living in that hippie neighborhood, and we made grand plans over coffee at the corner cafe.  Ideas for change were exciting. Climbing the hills of change wasn’t a big deal. We looked forward to it.  We believed our climb would accomplish something. Do you remember that?” 

“Oh my gosh,” said Jill. “The more hills the better.  When we descended, we felt great. The landscape had changed and our climb created that change.  A climb invigorated and produced energy.  I wonder what's different? Is it us? Is it the terrain? Do we need new hills, different challenges?” 

“Hills are the same everywhere,” retorted Jack. “I think there are a lot more of them though. People can't keep up. There are new obstacles to get to the top, and less reward once you do.” 

“We should talk to some folks to get their thoughts and ideas about strategy,” ventured Jill. “They might renew our energy. We grumble too much and don’t make enough effort. The problem isn't the climb, but that we’ve lost the drive to do it.” 

“The World has changed,” murmured Jack. “Sometimes I’m overwhelmed by it all. Do you feel that way?” 

“I do. The world has changed, but it's always immersed in change. Some people love the challenges, results or not. There's nothing new. What's changed is us. “ 

“That's true. Life is more complex and demanding. I have less energy. The hills feel bigger.” 

“Well, what do you want to do.” queried Jill. 

“What do I want to do?” Jack paused. “I want to go home, bake a fresh cherry pie, and eat slice after slice while watching foreign films. That's what I want to do.” 

“Oh, is that so?” She laughed. “Sounds scrumptious! But is that what do you really want? Is there still a spark in there? Some minuscule remains of the once inspiring activist?” 

After a moment, Jack heaved a deep sigh, slapped his knees, and stood. He pointed to the hill and announced, “The challenge lies ahead. We can conquer. Pie can wait, but the ascent can't. Onward, I say.” 

“Forward ho,” shouted Jill, as she stood with arms raised triumphantly overhead. 

They clasped hands, then Jack and Jill went up the hill. Yet again.

Catalina - By Tom Brady 

Now what? Pounding rain poured through our home’s gutters, and they hummed with rushing water. Rain soaked the ground and swirled around the street drain.  A downpour changed my plan to sit in the park and write.  Wife, kids, and the dog swarmed around the house, making it impossible to think. I needed quiet. A place to think was essential. I had to minimize the effort of slapping computer keys to make mental space for creative thought. 

The answer came while I petted Grace, my wagging, Chocolate Labrador confidant. I grabbed my laptop and said goodbye to the preoccupied family as I passed by them on the way out of the house. No one seemed to notice. I tossed the laptop on the passenger seat of my Electric Blue Elantra GT, N-line edition, and headed out. Reverse first, then six forward gears to snap through. The freeway was empty, and five exits later I barrelled around a cloverleaf ramp and was off.  

Being alone in a quiet place was my plan, and my destination did not disappoint. Paying for parking was my only gripe. Other than that, the airport was perfect. Comfortable seating abounded, as did electric outlets for my computer. A few coffee shops and delis were open, allowing me to relax in style. There were a handful of travellers, but they took off their shoes, dumped out their pockets, and headed through security to catch one of the few flights not cancelled because of the ongoing pandemic. Several people wandered through shops while waiting for arriving flights. I didn’t see anyone else who appeared to be there to get away from home. Or to write. I was a select group of one. 

I stared vacantly at giant travel posters as I mentally plunged into storyline and drained my first coffee. Next, I needed a bagel and more coffee, so continued the storyline quest while I walked. I choose the deli at the far end of the hall to retrieve my nutrition essentials and get a little head-clearing exercise.  

I arrived at the distant deli, and an attention-getting young woman with beautiful dark eyes and coal black, glossy hair meandering over her left shoulder helped me. Her name tag announced her as Catalina. We took our time with the transaction as there wasn’t another customer in sight. What a smile, and dimples! I knew she belonged at the heart of my story, whatever it might be. I also knew where I would go when my stomach growled for lunch. 

Back at my table, a writer’s suite, really, and a huge, well-appointed one at that, I stretched my arms and flexed my fingers. Motivated by coffee, a whole-grain bagel, and the beauty of my star character, I wrote. I wrote what came to mind, knowing the story blended with the words in a yet unrealized way. I banged keys and words appeared, then sentences, then themes and story. 

In my story, a jet left the gate for a two-hour flight. The plane had 23 passengers. As ground crew backed the plane out, flight control radioed the pilot and reported that the crew observed an abnormality in a landing gear, a wobble. The tractor stopped pushing, and air traffic control alerted a maintenance crew. 

The pilot, Captain Roberts, announced a delay for an inspection required by ground crew and promised updates. The crew arrived and began assessing. They required more test equipment, so Capt. Roberts announced this to his passengers. The equipment arrived and passengers peered through windows as workers scurried around the left-wing landing gear, pointing, discussing, gesturing with hands and shaking heads. An hour passed from when the plane first pushed back, and true to his word, Capt. Roberts kept the 23 confined people aware of the operation. Worn spacers on a small strut support bar created the wobble. The Embraer 190 regional jet, a proven aircraft, could not depart until maintenance personnel replaced them, a critical repair but not one significant enough to require a change of aircraft. 

Each of the 23 ticket holders onboard dealt with the news in their own way, but there was considerable seat squirming, sighing and checking of time. Cells phone sprung to life with flight crew blessing. Time passed with little activity outside the plane. Capt. Roberts was back on the intercom. 

“Ladies and gentlemen, the coronavirus has resulted in a cancellation of most flights and that means fewer maintenance staff on hand. The airline has called in a landing gear technician and he should be here in 35-40 minutes. Meanwhile, the flight crew will begin distributing snacks and drinks, and you are welcome to continue using your electronic devices. I’ll keep you updated as I learn more.” 

Eyes rolled in the heads of 23 people in scattered seats. The airline assigned seats so far apart that none of the 23 could turn to a seat row companion to grumble. Flight Attendants Shari and Linda loaded the food cart with coffee, tea, sodas, beer and snack packages of pretzels, peanuts and bite sized cheese crackers. At least the 23 had some control over their snack. 

The 23 did not feel satisfied by the meal, but did not blame Shari, Linda, Capt. Rogers or the ground crew. Some fumed quietly, some squirmed, and some accepted the situation with meditative breathing. 

Jennifer and Al, who staffed the gate, were aware of the delay. Jennifer left her post long enough to get coffee and talk with Catalina, whom she often saw. 

“We have a plane stuck on the tarmac,” said Jennifer. 

“Why, what happened?” 

“Landing gear problem, it’ll get fixed, but there’s no food on the short-hop flight. People are getting grumpy.” 

“I don’t blame them,” announced Catalina. 

Jennifer went back to work. Catalina wiped the counter and had an idea. She called Jennifer at her gate and ran it by her. Jennifer checked with her supervisors, then called Catalina and gave the idea a thumbs up. 

The enterprising Catalina called the cafe owner, explained the situation and spilled her idea through the phone in a well-shaped pool of words and concepts. The owner gave it a thumbs up too and asked to be kept advised. 

Catalina was working to support herself through graduate school in business, where she was earning a master’s degree in International Marketing for Sustainable Practices. Her proposed solution would address the hungry 23, the airline’s image problem, and the promotion of the cafe and herself. Or it would produce nothing more than lunch for passengers and flight crew. That would be enough for her. 

A selection of salads and sandwiches had been pre-made for the day and were in a cooler. She complemented this supply with newly made food until she had 30 mix-and-match lunches. Back at the Cafe office in an old yellow building that housed several small businesses, Eddy, the cafe owner, and Tesa Sue, his wife, were on the phone with the media, newspapers, radio, and TV. Catalina reported all of this to Jennifer, who reported it to her supervisors, who reported it to their supervisors and Capt. Rogers, who reported it to the on-board flight crew and the passengers. Twenty-five pairs of hands clapped, and 25 voices cheered, as Shari and Linda joined in with the 23. 

The press and airline execs showed up, then Jennifer rolled a spare airline food cart to Catalina who loaded it. A hydraulic lift raised Catalina, Jennifer and the cart to the plane. Jennifer watched with joy as Catalina, Shari, and Linda proceeded down the aisle passing out good cheer, food, and smiles. 

Catalina’s plan was a smashing success, and the press, hungry for upbeat news stories, flooded the market with it. The media swarmed all over Catalina. She and her dimples, dark eyes and meandering coal black hair made the national news. National and local companies and non-profits offered many jobs upon graduation. 

That was my story, but writing it was slower and harder than I expected. Isolation at the airport and the experience with Catalina made it possible. 

I called my wife. 

“Where are you?” she asked. 

“At the airport.” 

“What? Why are you at the airport? Is there anyone else there?” 

“No,” I replied. “I’m alone. Isolated. It’s Perfect. Well, actually… Catalina is here. She’s been great company. I’ll explain when I get home.” 

“Hmmm, yes, an explanation will be good,” she murmured. 

With a smile, I closed my laptop and packed up. I returned to the Elantra, punched it in first, and took off.

The Art of Art - By Tom Brady 

There is so much art to see that it's hard to keep up. Not only is there a lot of existing art, but there is more created every day. To complicate things, there are many kinds of art. There is drawing, painting, sketching, singing, photography, graphic arts, graffiti, writing, sewing and many more forms of expression that qualify as art. 

Trying to keep up with so many creative expressions is an art too. I can’t possibly stay abreast of the art in my own town, let alone other local towns, major cities, counties, states, nations, continents, cultures, and spiritual and religious belief communities. All create art.   

Then there's the history of art which is also art. People go to museums to look at art and there are thousands of museums in the world. What we don't know is how many worlds there are in the universe and that's a good thing because that would really complicate keeping up with art challenge. 

I was talking to a friend this morning by text, which has largely replaced verbal communications in my life. Texting can also be an art or simply a tool. It's up to the users to determine how text messaging is shaped. 

This morning’s texts were mostly a form of straightforward communication, but I admit, there was some art of discussion involved. After all, we were discussing art, folk art by artists from Spain and France.  The French artist discussed was Paula Rego and the Spanish artist was Manuella Chevrel. Rego paints and Chevrel sews. 

My text partner, Luzia, whom I’ve known for two years but never actually met, started things off by texting me a link to Chevrel’s Instagram posting of a quilt which depicts a bird creating stars, and the dark blue sky was filled with small, bright, new stars. I skimmed down in the Instagram post from this quilt to others. They were fascinating and depicted nature scenes that were realistic yet fanciful. Bears and other animals were living underground along with flowers and grasses, and the bears reached their paws through the surface of the ground and had plants sprouting from their paws. 

Her work emphasizes vertical lines and movements from beneath the earth’s surface to the heavens. It all becomes one flow of line and life. The colors are deep and rich and there were no humans in any of the quilts that I viewed. On the quilt that included the bear reaching up from underground, there was also an Infinity symbol sewn into the sky above the bear, indicating the continuity of life. 

The artist may be well known, but it's hard to tell that from the Instagram site, as she only has 80 followers and has only posted 30 comments herself. Luzia said the artist was an adolescent and that might explain her lack of exposure to the world. 

New talent complicates trying to keep up with art. If new artists are emerging faster than I can keep up with the existing ones, not to mention all those who've lived in the last several hundred years, then I really do have a major challenge. There are art schools all over the world and many artists never even go to art school but simply learn from others or their own experimentation. It's hard to know how Chevrel learned her quilting and the stories told through her quilting, as there was no information about this on the Instagram site or the web. 

This was not the case for the artist named Rego. She is well known, and in fact Luzia heard her speak when she was at Cambridge University. Ann Rego came there to give a presentation on her work. Unlike Chevrel's work, which is inspiring and lighthearted, Rego’s work is dark, but not depressing. It's actually somewhat amusing in how she depicts human interactions and miscommunications. 

I have not had the opportunity to explore Rego more than I did when Luzia was on the other end of the text line if I can call it that.  I will explore Rego more later, after I've finished the chores around the house, which I have conveniently put off in order to write down my thoughts about trying to keep up with art. 

Of course, I wouldn't be in this predicament if I hadn’t put off cleaning the kitchen floor to respond to Luzia’s text to me about the Instagram post of the Chevrel quilt showing a bird creating stars in the sky. The morning might have gone as planned, meaning the floor would now be clean, but I must admit, that is not always how things work even if I don't hear from Luzia. Sometimes other forms of art, such as a book, can serve as a distraction.   

The point here was to talk about keeping up with what is going on in the world of art. Now that I have friends who are artists, I have a stronger interest. The more I learn about art, the more I realize I don't know, and the more I realize I don't know, the more I want to know. 

There is no question that I will never keep up with everything that is happening in the world of art. Keeping up with a small percentage of it keeps me busy, and I’ve been inspired to start drawing. Now I have even less time for those bothersome chores. 

Tom Brady 

The Yellow Door - By Tom Brady 

After a tiresome and repetitive journey around the spare rooms in my head, my meditation session finally took me somewhere more interesting. I wound up cutting through cobwebs until I reached a pale-yellow door in what felt like the back, right side of my brain, an area specialized in something, but I can’t remember what. 

As this was all a meditation experience, I had nothing to lose by exploring what was on the other side of the door, but there was no handle, latch, or lever where one would expect to see one, and pushing on the door, even kicking it, only caused it to bulge out then spring back into its original shape, but with a small green spot low on the door. Each time I pushed against the door it bulged and the spot moved in a random motion and grew slightly larger. 

This contest continued for as long as I let it, maintained by my curiosity about getting past the brain-door and the meaning of its roving, green spot, which, incidentally, changed shape each time it moved. I knew that I was running out of time as I felt myself about mid-way through my 20-minute meditation. I let the meditative process decide what to do next, and the yellow door began to fade and lose importance. I began to turn away and said good-by to the door by touching the now hexagon-shaped green place, which was in the upper left corner. When I did, the door showed a crack of blue light, but on the bottom, not a side where I would have expected it. 

I knelt and slipped my fingers under the door, which I could not feel, as it seemed to be a creation of light with no physical characteristics discernable to touch. Yet when I raised my palm, now under the yellow door, it began to lift, to open, so I slowly kept lifting and the yellow rolled upward being replaced with a soft gray-blue hue which did not bleed out toward me, but stayed behind where the door had been. I lifted until the door was no longer there at all, having seemed to evaporate into the spaces of my brain that were prepared for such an event. 

The pathway in meditation is neutral observation with a focus on the breath, so there was no thought to moving into the gray-blue, it just happened and there I was surrounded by it. It was like being in the densest fog, like not being anywhere, like this sure is a strange meditation. 

Something whizzed by and I had the impression that it was an atom or a star, which seemed crazy as one is miniscule and the other huge. “Wow,” I said to myself and the grey-blue sea now carrying me, bobbing along and toward unknown places and experiences answered back that I did see a star as well as an atom and that they are the same while being completely different. 

Who in this gray-blue sea is talking to me, I asked myself, and the sea responded, “Who would you like it to be?” 

“I don’t want it to be a who, I want it to be the unknown. I want to lose myself in the voice of the unknown.” 

“Ah,” replied gray blue. “Of course. This will take some time. As many years as you have left.” 

“What will be . . .” I started to say, when the soft chime of my meditation timer floated into gray-blue and gently reminded me that my other life was waiting. As always, I slowly opened my eyes to the sight of the world I had left 20 minutes ago. I paused for reflection. I wondered if I would ever again come across that yellow door and journey to back to gray-blue, and the just out of reach unknown.

Pillow Fight  

Pillow Fight

By Thomas Brady

Stacy couldn’t sleep. She knew and employed all the good sleep habits and practices as needed over the last couple of years, but sometime her brain simply refused to go along with the plan. Why is it, she often wondered, that we are wired to try to solve the challenges and fears that haunt us most when we are supposed to be lost and fully relaxed in blissful sleep. This conflict seemed like a breakdown in evolutionary development, but she knew there was a reason why we functioned this way. She didn’t like it though. 

Some nights she slept great, falling asleep and staying asleep till dawn. She occasionally even had good dreams that were still with her upon awakening. Most dreams were washed away in the outgoing tide of morning, though. There were remnants of them left in her brain, and they indicated something pleasant or awful had been washed up and into the crevices and wrinkled texture of her being, and that she had been the one to create these incoming waves. How strange it all is, she thought as she kneaded her pillow and rolled from her right side to her left, a semi-automatic response, like shifting weight from one foot to the other while impatiently standing in line. 

She tossed and turned, unable to sleep because she had been involved in an unusual and uncomfortable interaction that day and was later ashamed at how she had unexpectedly lashed out at another person. She had driven to the grocery store and was pulling into a parking spot when she noticed another car coming from the opposite direction had also started to angle toward the space, but had to stop as Stacy had already begun pulling in. 

Stacy didn’t give it a second thought until she was out of the car, and a woman walking by her said “Hey, thanks for barging into the spot I’d been waiting for with my turn signal on. Was it really that important to you to be rude?” 

Without even thinking, Stacy snapped back that she also had her signal on and clearly it wasn’t a big deal as the other woman was able to park a few spaces away in the same row, so maybe she should just chill and let it go. What was her problem? 

The other woman snapped back at Stacy as they both headed to the store and Stacy felt her anger rising and it led to her calling the woman childish. With that, both women seemed to realize that emotions were rising to a dangerous and foolish level, and although they glared at each other and had to restrain themselves, neither said anything more. They separated, walking in angry silence to the door. 

The interaction upset Stacy enough that she had to keep checking her shopping list as her mind kept going over the interaction and she became upset with herself for being upset and for striking out at the other woman rather than simply saying “I’m sorry, I was distracted and didn’t even see you.” That response may have settled the event and even opened a door to a light exchange about crowded parking and traffic. 

She couldn’t sleep as she realized that she lived a quiet, conflict-free life, and this brief run-in had completely knocked her off balance. It caused her to question everything about herself and her interactions with others. Why had so much anger rushed out over such a simple misunderstanding? What was really behind the pent-up rage? 

Now, lying in bed, when she should be fading into semi-consciousness, she was tense, angry at herself and the other woman, and confronted with an examination of her life. She got up, made some chamomile tea, and sat on her living room sofa to sort it out. She took deep breaths and felt calmness slowly creep back in, and with it, a detached review of the day and event. The conflict was silly, and avoidable, but apparently necessary. A lesson. A reminder. A dashboard warning light that something needed attention. 

It’s true she thought. I haven’t been very happy, and I’ve been angry at the world. More deep breaths came with this thought and they came naturally, breathing in awareness. She had acted in a way she disapproved of. Now, sitting on the sofa, she committed to being more aware of herself, and to act in a way that reflected her values. She still felt bad about the interaction, but realized it happened for a reason, and she for one, would learn from it. She thought of the other woman and wondered what life stresses caused her to be so upset. 

She finished her tea and hoped the other woman was not lying awake or sitting on her couch in the middle of the night. She decided that if she ever saw her again, she would apologize and wish her a good day. 

With that, she went back to bed, rearranged the pillow, and the tide slowly flowed in, immersing her in sleep.