Monday, January 30, 2017

A Disgruntled Elf and a Funeral Home (part one)

I'm very excited about experiment #5 for my creative writing class. The suggestion is to try my hand at a magic realism story/fable (which essentially combines something mundane with something magical) and/or write a poem or story that is organized as a set of instructions. My creative brain immediately began to spin with concepts, which is extra fun since I have zero experience with either. In class, we were given two random phrases with which to construct a magic realism story. You may have surmised from the post title that mine are in fact 'a disgruntled elf' and a 'funeral home.' Oh the possibilities that could be explored with that combination! Below is part one of my story. Part Two will hopefully follow shortly, along with my attempt at the second suggestion for the experiment. I hope you enjoy!

           Lodie plopped himself down on the cold tile floor and peeled off his rubber gloves with an irritated sigh. His hands hurt and he hated the way the latex made his prune-y fingers smell after a long day of dealing with dead bodies. Embalming was nasty business.

The deceased came to Lodie in all sorts of grotesque conditions. There was the unnaturally obese man who had quite literally eaten himself to death. The ferociousness of his final binge tore through not only his stomach but several inches of his upper intestine as well. The sight of thirteen partially digested hamburgers turned Lodie off of fast-food chains for months.

Then there was the woman who met an unfortunate demise when her car kissed a hundred-year oak just past the Sable River. Attempting to make her head appear like it was still attached was quite the challenge and he didn’t quite understand the family’s insistence on an open casket given the circumstances. However, to this day, it remained the one work Lodie was most proud of.

Though they did not frequently make their way through the silver swinging doors into Lodie’s domain, he found working with the bodies of children to be the most refreshing. Sure, it was tragic and untimely, and Lodie did not enjoy the sounds that the grieving families inevitably made in the reception area, but to an elf living in a human world, at least the size was familiar.

Lodie came to Medleson Funeral Parlor almost completely by accident. A very unlucky accident, he felt as time trudged on. It happened on a spring day as Lodie and his family were traveling to the Elfin Sanctuary for the triannual celebration of the Lotus Festival. Lodie loved this time of year! He was so thrilled at the prospect of seeing his cousins from Destinshire and just thinking of the incredible foods that awaited him made his mouth water with anticipation. Oh to taste the sweet and tartness of an apple-blossom crodent or lazily sip the syrup from a ripe sacumansa! Lodie could hardly stand to think of it now. Human food was bland in comparison to the wonders of a proper elfin feast.

Lodie’s mother had warned him of the dangers in making the pilgrimage to the sanctuary. Elves and humans had more or less coexisted peacefully since the Treaty of Conciliation nearly thirty years prior, but old beliefs can be slow to die and some humans still considered an elf found on their property to be their possession. The portal that Lodie’s family would travel through to reach the festival made several stops along human routes and he would need to stay close to the group in order to be safe. Once the portals closed, they would not open again until the following year when the Lotus celebration ended.

Frankly, Lodie had found his mother’s caution to be annoying. He was by all standards a grown elf and, though this was his first journey to the festival as such, he surely could care for himself without clinging to his mommy’s apron. Or so he believed. Naiveté has a way of humbling those within its grasp.

The first portal stop was uneventful, as was the second and the third, but by the final stretch, Lodie was looking for a bit of excitement. He knew the portal stayed open for exactly seven minutes which, at the time, seemed to provide ample opportunity to look around the funeral parlor. Lodie had seen many a live human in his day, but a dead one? That would be something to regale his cousins with over dinner tonight.

While Mama was distracted by the ever-arguing twins, Lodie slipped away from the huddled group and through the metal swinging doors. It was dark, as elves tended to travel at night to avoid human run-ins, so Lodie felt blindly for a wall switch. As his fingers found the toggle, he heard a click and his eyes were flooded with yellow light. The room was sterile, wall-to-wall tile with white walls and ceiling. The far side of the room was banked with upper and lower cabinets and a countertop that was surprisingly uncluttered. Lodie’s eyes traveled to the center of the room where a metal gurney stood. An elongated lump lay covered in a white sheet and Lodie’s heart quickened. Under that sheet was what remained of a human after their spirit had chosen to find a new resting place. Lodie hardly noticed his steps as he was suddenly tearing back the covering to find himself face-to-face with a real, live (well formerly live) corpse.

This man’s skin was grey, not like the pinkish or brownish hues he’d observed from living humans. The body was, in what Lodie would soon learn to be, the last stage of funeral preparation, before hair-styling and make-up attempted to paint artificial life back over the unmistakable death. Lodie reached out to touch the cheek. It was unnaturally cold and he felt a chill run down his own spine as he instinctually recoiled. His gaze traveled down the man’s chest, where a small incision blemished the otherwise uniformity of a torso. Lodie was taken aback by the apparent wholeness of the body. He didn’t expect death to look this undisruptive.

Lodie was so preoccupied in his discovery that he didn’t immediately recognize the sounds in his ears as his own name. When his brain finally registered the desperation in his mother’s voice, Lodie turned quickly on his heels and bolted out the swinging doors. He arrived in the hallway just in time to see his mother’s eyes disappear behind the portal wall. He had been left behind.



Thursday, January 26, 2017

Experiment #4 Medias Res

                The phone call came in as she was returning home. The children in the backseat were in the midst of a rousing version of 'The Cat Came Back,' each attempting to outdo the other with the most outlandish tale of just how that wily cat managed to escape his fate once again.

                "Turn it down a notch you two," she said as she fumbled with the headset. "Let me take this real quick."

                His voice on the line was steady, if absent of the usual jovial tone, and his greeting did not initially convey the weight of the words on his tongue. "Hey, Kiki. I have something I have to tell you." The sounds that followed spilled out like the contents of a freshly shattered jar and her brain did not immediately register the pieces.

                "There was an accident with William and his mother."

                Maybe it was because she was driving or maybe it was because the reality was too unfathomable to conceive, but her initial thoughts went to a car accident. Bent metal and a broken windshield flashed before her eyes, and the baby with cheeks like chipmunks and a mop of black hair remained injured but alive. In the space between two sentences, hope proved fatal.

                "William died." The words ran through her like a shard of glass and as he continued to speak her ears no longer heard the sound.

                "Wait, what? No. No. What?" Her mind railed against the assault on her ears. "He...died?"

                "Yes," and as the distant voice on the other end of the line offered the few details that were the mother lost her it had been called in as an the light from this little boy who had just recently mastered walking after insisting on being held the first 15 months of his life had been beaten out of him by his birth mother...she felt the tears slide down her face and heard echoes of sobs that she did not recognize as her own.

                "Mommy, why are you crying?" The boy asked from the confines of his rear seat. His words broke into the conversation and brought her back into the body she had been temporarily removed from.

                "It's okay, baby. Mommy just got some really bad news. And I'm sad. I'm very sad baby," she mustered between sobs. As she hung up the phone, she was struck by the irony of her statement. It was not okay. It could never be okay. She and everyone she knew now lived in a world where a baby they loved and cared for and wanted to keep for their own, had been returned to the hands of a woman who murdered him within weeks. Her own children, barely old enough to read, would now learn first hand what evil looks like. Where the fuck was God in times like this? All she knew in this moment, was she had never been more alone.

Word Count Wednesday (on a Thursday)

My internet has been down from the heavy rains this past weekend...oh how good it is to be back online! The apocalypse is going to suck. Zombies AND no wifi? I hope I go down in the first wave.

As part of my class requirements, I am posting my 'Word Count Wednesday' in which I will discuss some of my current creative processing by answering the following three questions:

What am I working on? Our experiment for yesterday's class was to write a story's 1st page in 'medias res.' I love to learn new literary terms so I was happy to discover that 'medias res' is Latin for 'in the midst of things.' The exercise was to start the story right smack in the middle of the drama. No build up...let's just get down and dirty. I'll share my writing in a follow-up post, but for now I'll give a little background on its inspiration.

This past summer contained several life-redefining moments for me personally. One of which was the unfortunate loss of a sweet baby boy that dear friends of mine had fostered from infancy. Shortly after this boy was reunited with his birth family, he was killed. His mother currently sits in jail awaiting trial for his murder. To say this was devastating for those who know and love the families involved is an understatement. This child was a delight and gift to anyone who had the pleasure of knowing him.

Loss is one of those parts of humanity that we will all experience at some point, but I am one of those who has successfully avoided a personally significant one until now. Nothing brings you closer to or further from God than living through something you cannot understand. I have to be honest. This is still a tough one for me. My faith has really faltered in the aftermath.

But, you know what? Maybe that's not such a bad thing. I had built my life around these ideals that I thought I should live up to. I was succeeding in the path I was orchestrating before me. I watched. I took notes. I knew what I 'should' look and act and talk like, and yet, I had this still, small nagging voice asking, "Is this you? Is this what you really believe? If it was all stripped away, are you confident in what you say is true?" I guess the answer was no.

Starting from square one is terrifying, but I want to build an authentic life based on the person I truly am and not on what I think that I should be. I want an authentic faith, one where regardless of where anyone else stands, I know what I believe. It's lonely here, but the only person I really need to fellowship with at the moment is myself.

How do I feel about the process? In general, I'm feeling good about the writing process but I'm discovering that I need to be making a more conscious effort to set aside time to write. I used to only wait for inspiration, but I don't get a lot accomplished that way. What's that old saying? "Success is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration." Good ol' Thomas Edison probably knew a thing or two about success so I'd be wise to take a page from his book.

What am I currently reading? Due to my classload, I'm not reading much in the way of entertainment, but I am enjoying the required read of Stephen King's On Writing, as well as my women's history textbook called Through Women's Eyes. It's so important to know what has shaped our history and I think that the more I learn, the better effect it will have on my creative writing.

Monday, January 23, 2017

A little history and my first attempt at a song

I went back to school after a fifteen year break last fall. It was more than a little intimidating to begin again knowing that I will now likely always be one of the oldest students in class. Fun fact: I was one whole year younger than my first professor. Humbling to say the least. While many of my classmates juggle their schedules with part-time jobs and social lives, I have a balancing act of intermixing my studies with my own children's homework, bedtime stories and childhood fevers. New beginnings are always scary, and staring down years of part-time classes to an unknown end goal is no different.

I always saw myself a college-graduate. I was a straight-A, honor role kind of kid. My teenage years left me a little worse for the wear, though. While my peers headed off to universities and sorority houses, money saved for my college experience went to 30-day treatment centers instead. After that, attending a top-rated 'party school' no longer seemed like a wise choice. The alternate path found me married by 22, raising one baby by 26 and another a short 18 months later. The clock ticked on as I was busy building a life, so here I am, a woman in her mid-thirties, beginning again.

I'm taking a creative writing course this semester. It is, in fact, the inspiration for this blog. Our experiment this week was to write a song. While I love lyrics and music, the only songs I've ever composed have been for the sole entertainment of my children, only note-worthy to them for their use of the word 'poop' or some other equally easy toddler laugh. So in the spirit of yet another scary new beginning, this is my first attempt at something a little more adult and relevant. Here goes nothing...

Where do you sleep?
It's 3am and I'm wide awake.
I toss and I turn,
Unable to bear the sound of heartbreak.

Does the moon still shine?
No sliver of light reflects in my eyes.
Here by myself,
Tangled in sheets and tangled in lies.

There's no rest in this room and no where to go.
We started together but ended alone.
Was it all a dream? This life that we made
Turned to a nightmare in the place where we laid.

Here I am in the dark,
Chasing the shadows within my head.
Our silence made us strangers
And now I'm a whore inside my own bed.
Inside my own bed.

How did we end up here?
Tears stain the pillows where we used to laugh.
It all seemed so bright
Somehow this journey turned to an unlit path.

Now these questions remain
Unsure what to do, don't know who to trust.
I'm afraid of the dark
In becoming a me, no longer an us.

There's no rest in this room and no where to go.
We started together but ended alone.
Was it all a dream? This life that we made
Turned to a nightmare in the place where we laid.

Here I am in the dark,
Chasing the shadows within my head.
Our silence made us strangers
And now I'm a whore inside my own bed.
Inside my own bed.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Why Ophelia???

Welcome to my blog! This is my first foray into the world of let me be the first to admit, I'm not entirely certain what I am doing. I've wanted to start a blog for a long time but have never been really sure of how to begin. A part of me has always been torn between a desire to be heard and known through my writing and a fear that I don't have anything worthwhile to say. I guess this will be an experiment in finding out!

I have lofty and largely private dreams of contributing something that matters. My guess is that all of us who are inclined to write probably do. I first fell in love with creating stories and poems as an angst-y teenager, but as I entered adulthood, I judged my writing to be too melancholy, too juvenile and too inadequate to continue. For many years I stopped writing. What I didn't realize was that in halting that process, I had effectively shuttered my voice. The page has always been the place where my creativity, wisdom and honesty flowed best.

Maya Angelou said, "There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you." What truth there is in that simple statement! Having bore years of untold stories out of preliminary self-judgement and fear of whether my content would be found worthwhile, I've decided to try something different:


Write dreams, write memories, write about joys and hopes, and write about profound sadness and anger. Write stories, write poems, write honestly and write without expectations. It's a process, and with any process there is progress as long as momentum continues.

So...all that and I still haven't addressed the title of this post...Why Ophelia??? Ophelia Rue is my pen name or 'nom de plume', as I recently learned. I am not as concerned with being personally acknowledged for my writing as I am with striving to be unapologetically honest and free to express those untold stories. If remaining at least semi-anonymous helps to accomplish this, I think it's worth a try. The name Ophelia is inspired in part by the tragic Shakespearean character, but also by an anthology I read as a teenager entitled "Ophelia Speaks" by Sara Shandler. This book of writings submitted by female youth shaped much of my adolescence. Their raw and honest perspective on the struggles that they faced has always inspired me to want to speak hard things truthfully and to create characters that do the same.

Here goes nothing...Thanks for being along for the ride!