Anoles, anyone? I’m happy to be published in today’s Christian Science Monitor. You can read the little piece below, or by following the link.

 

 

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The first day on the island of Saint John, when I open the sliding door to the deck, a dull brown anole skitters towards me and I jump. I know these little lizards are harmless, but I shudder nonetheless. I shake my flip-flops and hope he’ll go away. He doesn’t. My city feet stiffen as I feel the tickle of tiny reptilian toes on mine.

“Shoo!” I say, but by the time the word is out of my mouth, the creature…no bigger than a mouse – has noiselessly jumped to the belted trunk of a nearby coconut palm, where it hangs upside down, motionless, like a door knocker. Is it my imagination or is
his skin growing darker? He morphs from pewter to black in a matter of seconds. I feel as if I am watching tea steeping in a glass pot.

I hurry back inside the rental apartment, remembering to latch the sliding door.

The next day I go to drape wet towels over the railing and the anole reappears. He seems curious, perhaps tempted by the terry-cloth scaffolding of the beach towels. I watch as he climbs up the edge of the laundry, stopping to let the Caribbean sun warm his skin. Perhaps we’re not so different, he and I. Hadn’t I spent the afternoon in a similar way, hiking up and down the Reef Bay Trail, resting against the ancient rocks, soaking up warmth as if I could store sunshine in my bones until spring?

By the fifth day, when the lizard appears, I say, “Oh, it’s you, again!”

I stay slouched in the deck chair, a novel spine-split across my knees, as the anole scampers underneath. He lingers, checking out my chipped pedicure with his tongue. I look down and try to study his face, but he quickly drops his eyelid like a shutter. Then he’s gone. I see him leap into the flower box.

I stare at him,waiting for his next move. Suddenly his neck puffs up and stretches out until it is almost the size of his head, all the while turning a shocking shade of scarlet, like a neon turkey waddle. I reach for my cellphone and do a quick search. I learn about the display of the dewlap. According to Google, a male anole exposes his dewlap when he’s marking his territory, flirting like a fool, or exhibiting a major sign of stress. Sometimes all three conditions occur at once.

I try to look away so I don’t stress him further. Suddenly he leaps vertically onto the stucco wall behind my head. It turns out that anoles also have adhesive lamellae on their footpads. No wonder they can stick to any surface and defy gravity.

I put on my sunglasses, pick up my novel and start to read. The anole commutes frenetically back and forth from the wall to the palm tree. We give each other space, like strangers on a train, each of us stealing a glance now and then as discretely as possible.His back, I notice, is ridged and translucent, as beautiful as a paper fan. His tummy pulses as he breathes.

In time, long before I give up the key to the Saint John apartment and return to the slush and squirrels back in Connecticut, I’ll begin to hold the whole arc of animal ancestry in my hand, the haunches and the slinky back, the scurry of adaptation. I’ll see God’s light in the tiniest of bodies, my world will grow wider by a few inches and a tail.

Later, friends will ask me if I enjoyed my time in the Virgin Islands, and I’ll nod and say how lucky I was to have a change of scenery in the depths of winter. They’ll think sunsets and white sand, postcard beauty at its best. But I’ll be thinking of another sort of loveliness, always underfoot.

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Meeting the Potato Farmer on the Road to Publication….

I’ve always thought it would be cool to be published in every single Anglophone and Francophone country. I’m about a fourth of the way there! Last month I entered a writing competition in New Zealand entitled “My Writing Journey” and voilà…. I won!

You can check out the piece here: http://www.writerscollegeblog.co.za/meeting-the-potato-farmer-on-the-road-to-publication/     Or Read it Below:4644483698_8963688103_b

MEETING THE POTATO FARMER ON THE ROAD TO PUBLICATION

BY GABRIELLA BRAND

I’m a little embarrassed to admit that meeting a potato farmer helped me become a writer. But it’s true. My literary career only began to blossom after Mr. Russet Man came into my life.

Of course, it would be much more exciting to say that I met a famous novelist or a publisher at a swanky New York book fair. That they took one look at the short story I was carrying around like a cocktail napkin….and boom…I was launched.

But that’s not what happened.

It took a simple potato farmer to show me the way. A man who understood, intuitively, that stories have to be rooted in the soil of our souls, or else they’re just weeds.

I’d always been a writer, of sorts. As a child, my poems and stories about parakeets or flying saucers were often showcased in the school literary magazine. However, I kept my deeper writing well hidden from public view. Every night, I filled the pages of a little faux-leather diary and locked it with a tiny key.

At university, a professor spouted the tired dictum: “Write what you know.” But I didn’t dare. I lacked the courage to publicly expose my disappointments or my fears or my crazy parents. I churned out a few short stories about young girls in Edwardian England, or star-crossed lovers on a Chinese junk, but these pieces lacked authenticity, and I knew it.

In time, I married a perfectly nice man. A brilliant scientist with a doctorate from Yale. But I didn’t share my personal writing with him. I suspect he was interested in hard data and statistics, not my flash fiction. Besides, I wasn’t writing much anymore. I had become a foreign language teacher, a mother, eventually an academy head. I churned out report cards and grocery lists and school budgets.

You’ve probably already guessed about the perfectly nice divorce. After that, I stayed deliciously single, punctuated by several suitors and a few rejections. Not the editorial kind, since I still didn’t have the guts to submit any work!

But here’s where we come to the potato farmer.

Mr. Russet Man was not my type, as they say.

His rural roots stuck out like a pair of dungarees on the subway. I’m a city girl. I live at the end of the train line to Manhattan. He was mellow and relaxed. I’m wound up tight. He wore the wrong shirt and read the wrong books.

But….

Of course you can see what’s coming. The farmer is actually the prince who sweeps me off my stilettos. Or some variation on that theme.

Within days of meeting Mr. Russet Man, I learned of his unabashed affection for Maine’s Aroostook County where his family had grown acres and acres of potatoes. Russets, of course. He, himself, had left the farm because he suffered from excruciating migraine headaches and couldn’t stay out in the fields. But the farm never left him.

With no self-consciousness, he talked about the importance of place in his life. Not just the barn and the farmhouse, but the New England town where he grew up, and the graveyards where his Yankee ancestors were buried. He drew oral portraits of Heddy, the hired girl, and Mr K., who served simultaneously as postmaster, dog warden, and police chief in their little community.

I found his rustic ramblings quite charming. As if I were listening to Tom Sawyer or Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. A different age. A different innocence.

But then he turned to me and inquired,

“So what’s your story?”

And at that moment, I realized that for many years I had been skirting around that very question.

Mr. Russet Man’s saga was as linear as a 19th century novel. The locus remained constant. Who grew up on the farm, who left, who came back, who left again.

My own background couldn’t have been more different. My family had never belonged anywhere.

“But tell me about it,” he asked. “I want to hear. People’s stories are fascinating.”

The potato farmer’s desire to learn about my past turned out to be a major catalyst for my writing.

I found that he was an extraordinary listener. And best of all, he asked questions without passing judgment.

“But tell me again why you think your uncle  was mute for fifteen years?” he’d inquire.

He didn’t offer any psycho-babble or academic theories. If I was uncomfortable or vague, he would let the “field lie fallow”.

With his gentle encouragement, I looked inward and began to discern the recurring themes of my upbringing. Displacement. Loss. Death. The Old World and the New.

Little by little, I began to cultivate my personal story, nourish it, and harvest it. I found it liberating to fictionalize my experiences in short stories, to strain them through a sieve or to magnify them tenfold.

“You should submit these stories,” said Mr Russet Man, one day. “They’re ripe. Ready to be read by others.”

My first published and paid-for writing was a piece inspired by family roots in Europe. Since then, a whole cast of characters and situations have appeared on my laptop screen, mutating before my eyes, rising up from my gut and entering the land of make-believe.

I have a long way to go on the writing journey. More questions to answer. More rows to hoe. Maybe there’s a novel lurking in my future. But I don’t think I would have even started on this path at all if I hadn’t met and married my quiet, caring potato farmer who became an unlikely muse.

 

About the Author

 

Gabriella Brand is the winner of the December 2015 My Writing Journey Competition.

Her writing has appeared in Perigee, The First Line (U.S) Cordite (Australia), Room Magazine (Canada), The Waterhouse Review (Scotland) and in several anthologies. She divides her time between New Haven, Connecticut, where she teaches, and the Eastern Townships of Quebec, where she hikes, canoes, and daydreams. She speaks several languages and enjoys traveling in Europe and Asia, mostly on foot.

Her website is at http://www.gabriellabrand.net

Photo credit: Flickr.com: Skånska Matupplevelser

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I could kiss this editor!

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Mike Keenan, writing in “What Travel Writers Say” mentioned my story “Shortcut” which appears in the travel anthology,Chance Encounters, published by GoTravel Press. I just stumbled across his critique today. I think compliments are like cookies, not necessary, but such sweet fuel for the writer!

Mike wrote:

“For me, Gabriella Brand’s wonderful piece “The Shortcut-Japan”, concerning an American woman….trekking around the island of Shikoku, following the 1200 km pilgrimage trail known as the 88 Temples, was worth the price of admission. Brand meets a husband and wife who help her in her quest, the husband suggesting to her, “Travel is a way to exercise the body and feed the soul, no?” Continue reading

Daydreaming, anyone?

IMG_0705 (1)One  of my pieces entitled “Flight Pattern: Zackery” will appear in the upcoming District Lines anthology, published by the Politics and Prose Bookstore of Washington D.C.  If you’re in the capital area on January 9, 2016 come and join the launch for this book. Pretty exciting!