Monday, February 27, 2017

Chapter One (Narrative Assignment)

I sat in the car as it idled, and let the windows down to invite in the nocturnal symphony waking up in the field fenced off before me. Moments earlier, the sun had slipped past the edge of the earth and left the sky behind me awash in rapidly fading hues of orange and pink. Almost as if she were avoiding an accidental run-in with a former lover, the moon now peeked cautiously up over the opposing horizon and I watched her full-bellied ascension over the darkening landscape. Stretched to the repletion of her boarders, she burst with the pregnant anticipation of a woman on the verge of motherhood, glowing and determined in her purpose. The combination of the sun’s recent departure and the heaviness of the air colored her face in a rosy luminance. Called a Strawberry Moon, she was made even more remarkable as her arrival this year fell on the summer solstice. Though the daylight had held her at bay for an exceptionally long phase of time, the night now made way for her stunning debut. She held the world captive at her feet.
Warm air wafted in the windows as I took in her performance. Her last appearance had taken place nearly a half-century before during the summer of 1967. It was the same year that the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco found itself filled with a sudden and large-scale influx of long-haired, uninhibited hippies, my free-spirited mother among them, seeking to free their minds, free their bodies and free society from its iron grip of outdated beliefs. It was an assemblage of lovers, of boundary-pushers, of drugged-out idealists largely disillusioned with the path laid before them by generations past.
Growing up, my mother often talked about the friendships she made while dancing in the moonlight to “The Mamas & the Papas.” I loved listening to the stories she spun while trying to reconcile the bath-robed woman before me who poured my cereal and packed my lunches as the same one who, at twenty, hitch-hiked across four states and wore flowers in her waist-length wavy hair. It had been called the Summer of Love, a widespread collective call for peace, understanding and transcendence for all who craved this type of freedom in their lives.
This evening, as I sat alone and captivated by the same spectacular moon that had shone over my mother during the summer that most defined her youth, I was becoming aware that this summer would be the Summer of my Undoing.


*******************************************
When I was twenty, I fell in love for the first time. He was clean-cut and olive-skinned and when he spoke, optimism poured out of him like a late-August monsoon in the desert. He was most unlike the other boys who frequented the same nicotine-stenched sober meeting halls that I did. His presence there was not motivated by a prolonged and soul-crushing trip to the end of his integrity, as mine had been. Rather, his motivation began by bedding a recovering addict who stated she could not marry a non-sober non-Jew, so he simultaneously started attending 12-step meetings with his classes on converting to Judaism. Their relationship fizzled, as did his interest in conversion, but he figured not drinking could only help him in the long run. So every Friday night, we sat in the same meeting halls, catching glances at each other across the room and listening to dry drunks desperately convince themselves they had kicked it for good this time.
“I like what you shared tonight,” he called out to me one evening over the crowd of alcoholics spilling out into the parking lot. The evening air was cool and still, but his words ran over me like a warm breeze.
“Uh, yeah, thanks,” I said, stepping past the line of cigarettes being lit around me and feeling a bit light-headed from the second-hand smoke and sudden quickening in my chest. “I don’t actually remember what I said, but it’s good to know someone got something out of it.”
He chuckled and the light from the half-moon hanging above us glinted in his eyes. “Well, if I’m being honest, I don’t really remember either, but I liked the way your voice sounded as you spoke. Quiet but direct. Very calming actually. I don’t know if you noticed, but Harry stopped twitching for a full five minutes after you finished.”
I laughed. Harry was what we referred to as a ‘wet brain.’ Even though he had picked up a six-month chip several weeks ago, he still appeared to be some combination of perpetually intoxicated and hungover. I’d have thought Harry a liar if not for the fact that he was transported to and from every meeting by a van emblazoned with the logo “Sobriety Saves” along with the information of a local half-way house. Personal experience told me those places only let you back in if you can pass a breathalyzer at the entrance. If Harry was still living there, he was as sober as a man who had downed Jack Daniels for breakfast, lunch and dinner the past thirty years could be. Some of us just take longer to dry out than others.
“But seriously, Liv. You do have a lot of insight to share. How long have you been coming here?”
“I’m coming up on a year and a half, I think, but I was in and out for a while before that.” I answered, momentarily confused about how he already knew my name before remembering my introduction as “Liv, the alcoholic” during the meeting. “How about you? I mean, I’ve seen you around for a bit, but never actually heard you speak.”
“I’ve got a little over six years. I used to go to the 7 o’clock group on 3rd, but my ex-girlfriend acquired that one in the divorce decree,” he joked, running his fingers through the dark folds of his hair before extending his hand towards me. “I’m Sam by the way.”
I took his proffered grasp and as our skin met for the first time, my stomach somersaulted with excitement and I thought I might throw up. How similar the effects of intoxication feel whether imbued from a sudden rush of endorphins or several shots of Everclear. All at once, the strangest sensation washed over my body. I’d heard it said that when you meet the one, you just know. In that moment, encircled in a haze of smoke and anticipation, I knew I would marry Sam.
Our love affair began in the same way I imagine that most do, an all-consuming fire of passion coupled with the fog of infatuation that blinds even the most reasonable of victims. I was happy to ignore the decade of difference between our births and he was happy to look past the sordid history of a person who spent more of her senior year of high school in rehab than actually attending classes. He didn’t look at me the way the people who lived with me through that part of my life did: disappointed, disgusted, and braced for my next failure. When I looked at Sam, I saw safety, security and path that led very far away from where and who I’d been. The most remarkable thing about him, however, was that he loved me back and, for a broken woman like me, that one thing alone appeared to be the solution to the problem of myself that I had been looking for. Sam’s love felt like an open window in a dark and stale room and I basked in the fresh air and sunlight of his adoration.

But, as it turns out, love can be an unjust god, favoring the demands of the heart over the hesitations of the mind. Now, fifteen years later as I sat watching the moon, I was acutely aware that the sun only shines for a predestined amount of time before the night takes over.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Word Count Wednesday

What am I currently working on?
I have continued to work on my narrative that I will be submitting next week. I started another chapter but not in sequential order. I'm hoping that if I just follow my inspiration, I won't have to struggle as much with coming up with material. Who knows.

Narrative Word Count: 977, plus an undetermined amount of rewriting.

I also did the exercise that I shared in my previous post from On Writing, entitled Fun with Dick and Jane. Word Count: 2880

How am I feeling about the process?
Fairly good, but a little frustrated too. I got a little stuck in my second chapter of my narrative. It's a story about a woman who is reevaluating the life she's built and her beliefs. It begins at the beginning of the end of her marriage and the events that surround that sort of catapult her into this new life whether she's ready for them or not. It seems easier so far to write the climactic or dramatic parts of the story, but I'm a little unsure how to tie them all together.

What am I currently reading?
Mostly On Writing. The biggest thing I took away from my latest reading was to not spend so much time plotting out how everything will go. It's easy to make the story feel forced that way. I tried his suggestion to just have the idea and characters in place and just see what happens. I actually really liked discovering the story that way and I think it came out decent at least.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Fun with Dick and Jane (Exercise from On Writing)

While I have been enjoying reading Stephen King's On Writing, it has, in parts, left me with a bit of insecurity as to whether I have what it takes to be a writer. Maybe I'm alone in this, but I've always thought that one day I would create some body of work that would be note-worthy and appreciated by the masses. This hope sometimes reminds me of my childhood idealism that told me I could be anything I chose to be, even if my dream was to be a famous singer despite the fact that God overlooked me in the vocal department.

In his section On Writing, King outlines a history and set up for a story scenario. He then suggests we twist the characters and take the story to see where it goes. Don't plot it out, let the characters dictate the direction of the story. Since I've been having a bit of writer's block, I thought this might be a good exercise to try. Here goes nothing...

Dick took the steps two at a time as he climbed the cement stairway to the front door of the red-bricked brownstone apartment. His 4 o’clock meeting at the ad agency had run long and he had to sprint the four blocks in order to make it to the daycare before 5pm. Mrs. Gunnery had a strict policy of charging an extra fee for late pick-ups and, though he had been able to bring in some extra money with his latest campaign, every dollar counted when it came to raising a child on his own.
Nell was sitting cross-legged on the floral carpet when Dick peeked his head into the playroom. She was busy building a tower of alphabet blocks that wavered precariously with each new addition. A boy Dick knew was named Benjamin hopped carelessly towards Nell, stopping just short of the leaning tower. The force of his steps was enough to jostle the floorboards, though, and it sent the blocks toppling down. Nell looked up at Benjamin, her face reflecting a mixture of confusion, disappointment and anger. Dick watched helplessly from the doorway as she leveled a fist and punched the boy square in the gut.
“Nell!” Dick and Mrs. Gunnery yelled simultaneously as poor Benjamin doubled over onto the floor in shock and pain. Dick darted into the room and grabbed Nell’s arm before she could reposition herself for a second blow.
“Mr. Olafson, I cannot tolerate this type of behavior in my daycare! You need to teach Nell to control herself. We do NOT touch our friends in unkind ways!” Mrs. Gunnery was as red in the face as the child still attempting to regain his breath on the floor below.
“Of...of course, Mrs. Gunnery. Please forgive us. Nell was just upset about her blocks is all.” Dick explained as he wrestled the little girl into his lap. “Now, Nella,” he said, turning to his daughter, “You owe Benjamin an apology. It was an accident. He didn’t mean to knock them down.”
Nell looked up into her father’s face. The anger that had flashed across it so fiercely moments earlier was gone and the realization that she was in trouble was settling in. Nell stared at Benjamin, who was busily being comforted by a slightly frantic Mrs. Gunnery. Standing from Dick’s lap, Nell walked over to the crying child and hugged him from behind. Dick knew Nell was sorry. He was sure that she hadn’t meant to hurt the boy. Nell’s short temper was an inherited trait from her mother. The tantrums had eased in the months since his ex-wife Jane had been away, but violent outbursts occasionally reared their ugly heads now and again.  
After apologizing profusely and making sure Benjamin was alright, Dick took Nell by the hand and they walked out into the late afternoon sun. The weather had begun to warm up, making the short walk home especially pleasant. Nell skipped a few steps ahead and pointed out the different flowers that had begun to bloom in recent weeks. Dick loved to watch the way his daughter discovered the world around her. The first couple years of her life had been rocky to say the least. Jane had suffered from severe post-partum depression and Dick would often return home from work to find his daughter in front of the tv in an hours-old soiled diaper, his wife either asleep in the darkened bedroom or sitting in the base of the shower with cold water pouring over her pruning body.
When Dick would finally snap her out of her near comatose state, Jane would cry and insist that she had only just fallen asleep or had only been in the shower for a few minutes. After several weeks, Dick finally called the doctor and, with the aid of prescription medication, Jane seemed to be improving. About six months later, things seemed so good in fact that Dick and Jane decided she no longer needed the medication and she promptly stopped taking it.
It didn’t take long, however, for things to go south. Just before Nell’s first birthday, Dick was promoted to head of advertising in his department, a career jump that provided a significant raise in pay but also required longer hours working closely with his female boss. At first, Jane seemed supportive, but after a month or two of late evenings, she began to get needy, calling his cell incessantly until he answered, showing up disheveled at his office with Nell dragged behind her like a doll. Jane’s irritated franticness would quickly turn to relief and adoration as Dick assured her he’d be home as soon as possible, but he was rapidly growing concerned with the behavior of his wife.
One night, after a dinner meeting he had hosted with his boss for a prospective client, Dick returned home to find Jane standing in the kitchen with a large butcher knife. She had piled all of his work shirts in a lump on the table and was repeatedly stabbing into it, stopping just long enough to unstick the blade from the wood underneath. When she noticed Dick in the doorway, she lunged at him, screaming accusations of his infidelity and other nonsensical paranoia. Thankfully, a neighbor had overheard the commotion and Dick was able to subdue her just as the police barged through the door.
The weeks Jane spent hospitalized following the incident left her with a new diagnosis: paranoid schizophrenia. Jane was resistant to the medication, claiming it made her feel numb, so the next nine months were spent in and out of psychiatric hospitals. The more inconsistent her treatment was, the worse her paranoia and psychotic episodes became, until finally Dick had decided enough was enough.
The day after Dick filed for divorce, Jane had shown up at his work while he was out at lunch. Refusing to believe Amanda the receptionist when she stated he was out of the office, Jane attacked, savagely beating her until several of Dick’s coworkers were able to pull her off the now unconscious Amanda. Jane was arrested and charged with attempted murder. Her attorney negotiated a lengthy stay at Edgecomb State Hospital. Dick quit his job at the agency and began freelancing while caring for Nell full time. It had been a rough few years, but things were finally starting to look up.
“Daddy,” Nell squealed, catching her father around the legs and smiling up at him, “I picked you a red one!” and she handed him the petals of a freshly plucked begonia.
“Awe! Thank you baby!” Dick reached down and scooped Nell into his arms. “Why don’t we save these to give to Leah at her birthday party? We’ll stop there before we head home.” Nell squealed with excitement and wriggled out of her father’s arms. Very little else excited a four year old than the idea of a birthday party.
When they arrived at Leah’s house, Nell was instantly overtaken by the excitement of the balloons and colored sugar. Dick barely had time to get in the door before she was swept up in the mix of tiny humans running amuck.
“Hey, Dick!” Leah’s mom greeted him. “How are you doing?” Ashley was a long-time friend. She and Jane had met in a prenatal yoga class and she remained one of the few friends that hadn’t found excuses to remove Jane’s particular brand of crazy from their lives.
“Great, thanks! I secured a new project today so that should keep me honest for a while.”
“That’s good news.” Ashley replied, shuffling three icing-covered munchkins racing by with an eager dog at their heels. “Hey, you’re welcome to stay but if you need a little time for yourself, we have plenty of adults here and I’ll make sure Nell is well taken care of.”
Dick thought for a minute. A free moment to a single parent was a rare luxury indeed. Images of a quiet cup of coffee and watching a non-cartoon tv show flooded his mind, and before he knew it, Dick had said his goodbyes to Nell and was walking the half a block to his own house alone.
The key slid easily in the lock, and Dick was struck by the silence inside the house. Nell didn’t seem to know how to exist without making noise and Dick was unaccustomed to the sudden stillness in his ears. He suddenly felt a bit unsettled, almost as if there was something familiar about this moment, though Dick hadn’t been alone in this house since Jane went away and he had become Nell’s full-time caregiver. He ran his hand through his hair and down the back of his neck, brushing the imaginary tingles in his spine away. Tossing his keys and phone on the sideboard, Dick headed into the kitchen.
Taking the coffee out of the cupboard to the right of the stove, he scooped several teaspoons into his stovetop espresso pot, filled the resevoir with water and set it over the flame. Walking into the living room, Dick kicked aside the toys that had been hurriedly left out in the morning in rush to get Nell to daycare before work and plopped down on the sofa.
“Ouch!” Dick cried out as something sharp stab him in his lower back. He reached behind him and felt blindly in the cushions for what had impaled him. His fingers grasped cold metal and he pulled out a pair of red-handled scissors. Nell knew she was only supposed to use the safety scissors when she did her crafts, but she often forgot. Dick tossed them onto the coffee table and lifted up the back of his shirt to assess the damage. An angry red welt was rapidly rising but no blood had breached the surface. He settled back into the couch and clicked on the tv.
“...And now we turn to Leslie with the latest on what is being referred to as the Incident at Edgecombe.” The news anchor on the screen caught Dick’s attention as the shot panned to a blonde reporter stationed outside the fenced lawn of the hospital where he had last seen Jane.
“That’s right, John,” she said, “No official word on exactly what happened or how the three women managed to escape the facility late last night, but an employee I spoke to who asked not to be identified said a guard had been killed by the suspects the during the breakout. Again, three women who were serving sentences for violent crimes related to their mental health issues here at Edgecomb State Hospital broke out of the heavily guarded facility. Two of those inmates were captured about a mile away in the woods that surround the hospital but the third has yet to be located. Police are asking the public to be vigilant and report any suspicious activity immediately. The third woman is described as...”
The hair on Dick’s neck immediately pricked up and he shuddered under his sudden realization. He did not need to hear the reporter’s description. He knew that the third woman was Jane and that the uneasy feeling he had when he walked through the door wasn’t because he was alone in the house. It was because he wasn’t alone. Dick sprang up off the sofa and turned instinctively towards the entryway.
There Jane stood, dressed in a t-shirt, her hair disheveled. Her bare feet were muddied and Dick knew from the wildness in her gaze that she had been off her medication for quite some time.
“Hello, husband.” she said and took a step in his direction. “Where is our daughter? Have you done away with her the way you did away with me?”
Dick surveyed the room, his heart pounding frantically in his chest and his mind racing. “Jane, what are you doing here? How...how did you even get here?’
“Aren’t you happy to see me? I’ve missed you so much. I was willing to do anything to come back to you. The least you can do is come over and say hello.” Jane smiled, as she took another step forward.
“What did you do? You are not allowed to be here. I’m going to call the police.”
Jane laughed, and for a brief moment Dick heard the sound that had first drawn him to her. She had always had a great laugh, but now it’s sound struck fear inside of him. It was no longer the laugh of a woman in love. It was the cackle of a woman unhinged.
“Don’t be silly, darling. How can you possibly call the police when I have your phone?” She lifted her hand to display the phone before smashing it violently to the ground. Dick watched in slow motion as bits of plastic and glass shattered across the wood floor.
Raising his arms defensively in front of him, Dick began to circle around the opposite side of the couch as Jane rounded one corner. “Jane, Jane listen…” he pleaded, “what do you want?”
Her eyes hardened at his question and she glared at him. “What do I want? What do I want? I want my fucking life back! I want a husband who isn’t fucking every whore that he meets. I want to see my baby! She’s MY baby you know!” Jane was screaming now and Dick wasn’t sure what his next move was.
“Sweetheart,” he said, trying to placate her, “I never slept with anyone but you. I’ve always loved you. It wasn’t me who put you in that place. And remember, Nella and I came and visited you, just this past Christmas. Don’t you remember? We sat in front of the tree and you held Nella and sang her a song.”
Jane seemed to soften at the mention of their daughter’s name and the tension in the room eased ever so slightly. “Here,” Dick said, motioning to the couch, “why don’t you just sit down for a minute. We can figure this out. I’m...I’m happy you’re here.” He smiled at her as convincingly as he could, and though she appeared puzzled, she sank down into the cushion wearily.
“See, isn’t that nice? I’m making some coffee. Let me get you a cup and we can talk this through.” Dick offered, beginning to feel like he was regaining some control again.
Jane stared up at him. She hesitated, “I would like some decent coffee. They only have the Folgers instant stuff in the hospital. It’s total shit.”
Dick chuckled, feeling more and more at ease. “I’ll just go check to see if it’s ready. It should be boiling by now.” Dick turned to head into the kitchen. His tablet sat on the counter where he’d left it this morning and he quickly powered it up. The pot was beginning to scream under the pressure of the boiling water, so Dick quickly shut of the burner while he searched for the messaging app.
He quickly poured a steaming cup into a mug and sent a hurried message to Ashley. “Help. Jane home. Call police. NOW!” He waited until he saw the delivered receipt and then brought the coffee back into the living room. He breathed a silent sigh. He only needed to keep her calm until the police came. Everything would be fine.
Jane was still seated when he returned, watching the weather report on the tv. Dick handed her the mug and took the spot next to her on the couch. “Here you go...one non-shitty cup of coffee.” He smiled and Jane returned it with a smile of her own.
They sat quietly for a moment, the sound of the forecast filling the space for them.
“I know I can’t stay.” Jane finally stated, and she turned to meet his gaze. “It’s just that I never got to say good-bye you know? They took me away and I never got to finish what I started.”
Dick looked at Jane. For a moment, the woman he knew before all this, the one that he had madly and passionately loved, reappeared in the face in front of him. A tear was trickling down her cheek and she looked so helpless.
“Can we just...can you just hug me for a minute? I only need a minute.”
“Of course, love.” Dick said and he moved closer to her on the sofa. He placed his arms around her and felt her return the embrace. For a moment, they sat there, just breathing and hanging on to each other.
Jane shifted slightly and Dick began to pull away but he was stopped by a sudden and violent pain in his back. It was followed by another and then another. Stunned, he looked at Jane to see her holding the now-bloodied pair of red scissors he had carelessly tossed on the coffee table earlier. He could feel three streams of warm blood trickling down his back and watched as the wildness returned to her eyes.
Dick fell back on the couch, startled, and Jane lunged at him one more time, plunging the blade directly into his chest. He couldn’t breathe. He couldn’t think. His eyes flashed with red, red, red and then, it was black.

“Goodbye.” He heard Jane say as he faded into the darkness.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Word Count Wednesday

As I mentioned in my previous post, this week held an unexpected and unfortunate surprise in the form of a failed laptop and the loss of my past couple month's worth of work. I have many thoughts about this but most of them are not publishable. Over the years, I've noticed that hope is as indestructible as a cockroach, so I'm going to hold onto that sucker until I'm presented with undeniable proof that my work is irrecoverable. I believe in you Steve from Geek Squad!!!

On a brighter note, thanks to this blog and some screenshots that I happened to have of my narrative work, all is not lost and I've been able to reconstruct some of the most important pieces. I'm looking at this experience as a forced revision...a crash course in the lesson of 'killing my darlings.' Maybe something better will come from it.

What am I currently working on?

The biggest piece I've been working on is a revision on my first chapter for the Narrative assignment. I've essentially scrapped my previous work and gone in a completely new direction. I took the feedback about steering clear of stereotypes, beginning elsewhere and reworking the mother character I had developed, and I really like where its going. I finished the new chapter with total of 1182 words.

I wrote a poem this week entitled It Wasn't Rape which explored some of the reasoning that is made in order to justify or minimize the reality of what happened. This one is locked up in my traitorous laptop so I don't know if it will ever see the light of day.

I also wrote the tale of my Valentine's Day Heartbreak last night and the word count was 461.

How do I feel about the process?

I have mixed feelings this week. I tend to have a bit of what my therapist calls an 'all or nothing' personality. If my work needs revision, I have a hard time not completely starting over from scratch rather than seeing what I have already created through to the next phase. Maybe this is okay, but I could see it being an issue if I continue to reinvent a new chapter one over and over. I also feel like I've struggled a bit to carry a cohesiveness throughout the chapter, tending to fall off my momentum as I incorporate dialogue and background.

What am I reading?

Bedtime stories mostly, but I am making sure that I pay careful attention to how the stories are stitched together and the details like word choice. I'm also getting ready to pick back up Stephen King's On Writing. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Valentine's Day Heartbreak

Our relationship had started off rocky. Sometimes things just don’t click right away and I found myself easily irritated at the quirks and nuances that I didn’t understand. Given time we persevered and recently, things had really taken a turn for the better. Our daily meetings began to pave paths of connection and I viewed our time together as a creative outlet, holy and healing in its nature. As we spent time together yesterday morning, I was hopeful and excited for plans made for our future. Other obligations came up, forcing our goodbye, but I made plans to return in the evening. Hit by an unexpected wave of exhaustion, I was regrettably forced to delay our next encounter until the morning.


And then the unthinkable happened.


When I arrived for our morning meeting, I discovered that nothing remained. Nothing. Just blackness and the intermittent sound of air struggling to breathe life into the lifeless.


Now, standing across a counter from a man I did not know, I attempted to process the shape of his mouth as it formed the words: Catastrophic Failure.


No one wants to hear those two utterances, let alone a writer whose latest creative musings now lie entombed inside the carcass of machinery I had arrived with. I had hoped, prayed for resurrection, but here I was, face to face with Steve from Geek Squad as he handed back my now-useless laptop and delivered the news.


As a steady stream of expletives raced through my mind, I held just enough social grace to stop short of allowing their exit from my lips. We were in public after all.


My thoughts were flooded with the hours and hours spent at the keyboard, pounding words out from the recesses of my soul. How I wrote, read, revised, despised, deleted and reworked over and over, each time reaching deeper into the darkness in pursuit of authenticity and liberation. With each keystroke, I had planted seeds of myself inside the safety and security of what I had come to revere as a trusted confidant. If there was no honesty elsewhere in this world, it had lived in the inner mechanisms of that motherboard.


Steve shrugged and sent me apathetically on my way with a $900 quote for a new laptop and a mediocre reassurance that my beloved pages could be recoverable, should I be willing to cough up an extra fee. I mean, really? What is another hundred bucks when the fate of soul workings are on the line?!


I’ll try to remember that when the bill comes.


Returning to my car, I carelessly tossed the now defunct encasement of electronics on the passenger side seat. Staring down at what remained of the moments we had shared, a final word bubbled to the surface.

Traitor.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Word Count Wednesday

Today's class focused on peer revisions of our works in progress. I'm discovering that being a writer is a bit like walking around with an open wound. I've always found writing to be a cathartic experience but I often feel like I leave more of myself on the page than is socially acceptable. Sending parts of one's soul out into the ether to be received however it may be is scary and vulnerable business, but as I stated earlier, I'm no longer interested in the agony of holding the untold stories inside me.

So, I write, and I try to let go of the idea that everyone is going to like it or understand it or care about it. But, since I want to improve my craft, I must allow constructive criticism be my refining fire, as uncomfortable as it may initially seem.

I will say that my classmates were gracious today, intermixing the parts of my story that they appreciated with specific ways to improve the content and cohesiveness of the chapter. The main ideas that I took away from today's session were as follows:

*Try to arrive at the action a little sooner and don't get so caught up in the description
*Resist the urge to fall into clich├ęd characters and remember try to create more nuances within their personalities - no one is ALL good or ALL bad
*Think of a chapter as a circle so try to complete it by tying the end back to the beginning
*Give more detail to my main character's current state of affairs
*I showed strengths in imagery and dialogue
*The audience was curious to find out more

I'm excited to revise through a new set of lenses and see where the story goes. Now, on to this week's stats...

What am I currently working on?
This week I wrote the first chapter of a book about a woman who had come to a place in her life where everything she thought was going to happen has faded from her view. She is facing a different reality than she had envisioned and planned her life around and she must reconcile her past in order to start again. Word Count: 1853
I also finished part two of my Disgruntled Elf story. Word Count: 1822
Today I got an idea for a poem so I plan on working on that once the kids go to bed!

How do I feel about the process?
I'm feeling good! I'm finding myself more inspired to write the more disciplined I am to write a little each day. I'm actually having a hard time making sure I don't neglect other commitments because I'd rather spend more time being creative.

What am I currently reading?
Unfortunately, a whole lotta nada...unless bedtime stories count. Between the assigned readings for my classes and everyday life, recreational reading has been relegated to the back burner. I am, however, INCREDIBLY inspired by the talented ramblings of my classmates. I am soaking up their creativity and courage to lay their vulnerability on the line. This class is seriously good for my soul!



Tuesday, February 7, 2017

A Disgruntled Elf and a Funeral Home (part two)

I shelved this story this past week in order to work on another story idea I am formulating. The last year or so of my life I've had what I like to refer to as "SQUIRREL!!! syndrome." This malady hit after both of my children settled into the stay-at-home mom promise land also known as full-time school!

Don't get me wrong, I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to be with my kids during their first formative years. I got to watch them both roll over, learn to walk, kissed their boo-boos, shuffled them to parks and playdates, and tucked them in almost every single night. But, after over 8 years of my life lived through them, I am now thankful for the opportunity to explore more personally fulfilling options.

The problem is that I want to do ALL THE THINGS. So far, I've tried taking up piano, creating set designs for a local kids church, curriculum editing, attending continuing education courses for my esthetics licensure, going back to school, freelance marketing assistance and starting this blog. Every time a new adventure floats past my view, I get distracted and chase after it until the next one catches my eye.

I'm a little worried that this condition may bleed over into my writing. After my long creative-hiatus, I have many ideas and it's hard to focus on seeing anyone of them through to the end. So, I'm going to try applying some of my parental guidance to myself and make sure I follow through on what I've started.

Here is part two of my tale of Lodie the Elf. If you recall, we last saw Lodie when he was unfortunately left behind at the funeral home. More to come!


            In a panic, Lodie rushed to the wall where the portal had just vanished. He clawed at the drywall and banged his fists against the soundness of its structure. How could he be so stupid? Lodie crumpled to the floor and clenched his hair in his hands. It was hopeless now. There was no way to move forward and no way to return home. Lodie was stuck.

            After a long, self-loathing pause, the elf gathered himself together to assess his sudden misfortune. He had no money. He had no food. He would need to survive the next three-hundred-sixty-five days with only the clothes on his back, the sandals on his feet and that mixture of grit, wit and foolishness unique to young adult males.

Lodie pondered the foreseeable options…he could attempt to remain unseen, hiding in closets and the like. It seemed plausible, but there was the issue of food. He wasn’t certain, but a funeral home didn’t seem likely to come with an amply-supplied pantry. He could attempt to leave…but he ran the risk of being caught by a backwards-minded human and then he would have a whole new set of issues to contend with. Plus, with no money, how far could he actually get anyway?

Feeling dejected and uncertain, Lodie began to wander down the hallway. The carpet under his feet was blue with an overlay of tiny white and green flowers. Cherry wainscoting covered the walls to about Lodie’s height, while the exposed drywall above was painted a soft-cream color. A sky-light above was now filtering in the beginnings of dawn and as his eyes began to adjust, Lodie noticed an opening at the end of the hall. When he reached the door jam, Lodie carefully peered around the corner and saw the viewing room. On an elevated platform to his left, stood two large bouquets of white flowers. He recognized some of them to be lilies, not only in their form but also in the sweet aroma that danced under his nostrils. The space in between the bouquets was empty and Lodie guessed that that must be where the casket would go. Straight ahead and to his right were several rows of white chairs. They reminded Lodie of bigger versions of the banquet seats that were currently being filled with incoming Elf families while he was stuck here in this strange place with no family and no hope. Lodie felt the water welling up in his eyes and a tear slip out onto his mottled cheek. He climbed up into the nearest chair and began to cry. In between his muffled sobs, it occurred to Lodie that this room was indeed a good place for grieving.

Consumed inside his unfortunate turn of events, Lodie did not hear the sound of metal as a key was slid into the front doors behind him. He did not notice the change of lighting in the room as the door was drawn open. He did not realize that a man in a dark suit was now standing over him, watching the little elf cry.

“Eh-hem.” The man cleared his throat and suddenly Lodie’s tears turned to terror at the realization that he was no longer alone. The elf jumped to his feet and his height combined with the height of the chair, brought him nose-to-nose with an elderly human with grey hair and a bespectacled-nose. The panic coursing through Lodie’s veins rendered him temporarily mute.

“What is an elf doing in my reception room?” The man, Arterius Medleson, asked as much to himself as to the wee being before him.

“I, uh, I…” Lodie tried to cling to the millions of words rushing through his brain. “I came to see you about a job,” he blurted out. A job? Lodie thought silently, Why did I say that? But as he wondered, he realized the brilliance of his accidental idea. A job could be the very thing that would solve his imminent crisis. Lodie held his breath as he waited for the man to respond.

Arterius surveyed the elf in front of him. It was a strange sight indeed. The last time he had been this close to one was when he had been a child. In those days, it was common for a family to be attended to by an in-home elf. While Arterius’ parents did not own one personally, his grandmother did and so whenever he visited her, he would watch as the funny little woman scuttled about the house. Her name was Melana and though she was clearly well along in years, the top of her head was a full foot shorter than the young Arterius’ seven-year-old frame. From what he could tell, Melana was an obedient and diligent worker. He would watch her as she moved from room to room, straightening the pillows and dusting the windowsills. At mealtimes, she set the tables and made sure everyone’s glasses were filled. After, she would clear the table and disappear into the kitchen to wash and dry all the dishes.

Arterius’ grandmother was not a particularly kind woman. He didn’t care much for the time he spent with her as she was cold in demeanor and quick to point out all the ways in which the only grandson of her youngest daughter was a disappointment.

“You are getting rather fat, young man,” she spat at him over the dinner table one evening. Arterius’ cheeks turned bright red as he glanced down at the slight roundness of his belly. “You’d do good to skip on dessert tonight.”

When Grandmother made statements such as that, Arterius knew that it was much more a command than a suggestion and he stared longingly at the triple-layer chocolate cake that had been set directly in front of his gaze. He’d been eyeing it all evening as he dutifully choked down his plate of pork chops and brussell sprouts, silently reassuring his taste buds that something much more appealing was in store for them. He felt a wave of disappointment wash over the shame of his grandmother’s comment and subsequently lost his appetite.

Later that night as Grandmother predictably snoozed in the sitting room and Arterius attempted not to die of boredom as the hours ticked on, he heard a faint pssst coming from the doorway. Swiveling his head around to follow the sound, Art was surprised to see Melana’s oversized round eyes peering at him from just passed the door jam. Though Arterius had visited Grandmother for two weeks every summer since he could remember, this was the first time he had ever interacted with the lady elf.

Psssst…” Melana summoned again, curling an unusually long and knobby finger to beckon the boy along. Curious, Arterius stood quietly and so as not to wake Grandmother from her drool-producing slumber, tip-toed past the soft snorteling sounds and into the hallway. Once there, he caught sight of the back of Melana’s apron as it slipped behind the swinging door into the kitchen. Creeping in after her, Arterius was both surprised and delighted to see a single gooey piece of chocolate cake and a tall glass of frothy white milk awaiting him on the counter. He glanced around gratefully for the little woman and he met her gaze as she stood near the sink, nervously wringing a dishtowel in her hands.

“I just thought…” Melana started, her voice high and sweet with a hint of anxiety, “I just thought a good and fine boy such as yourself should not be deprived of such a simple pleasure.”

Arterius began blushing in spite of himself, and as he took the first bite of fudgy decadence, he let the richness of Melana’s words travel with the cake into the depths of his belly. Bite after bite, he basked in the warmth of the kitchen and of her kindness. When he soon discovered his plate empty and his belly full, Arterius gulped down his glass of milk and brought the dishes over to the sink, where Melana had been washing.

“Thank you,” he said, and though he wanted to hug her, he felt the self-consciousness of the distance that had existed between them begin to creep back in. Instead, Melana smiled warmly, took his dishes and waved him off to bed.

That summer was the last time Arterius went to visit his grandmother. She passed away the following December and he never learned what happened to the little woman who had shown him such an unexpected kindness.

Now, staring into the similarly over-sized eyes of the surprise guest before him, the memory of that kindness tugged at his consciousness.

“A job?” Arterius Medleson asked. “I haven’t posted an ad for a position.”

“I understand, Sir,” Lodie hesitated, “but if I may, I am a quick learner, highly motivated and I don’t cause trouble. Is there anything to which an elves’ nimble fingers or keen sight might assist you with?” He was attempting not to give the desperation of his need away with his words. Requesting assistance from any human was a gamble, as he’d grown up being taught to use great caution around them for fear of being claimed.

Mr. Medleson sized-up the young elf. Though at the moment, Lodie stood nearly eye-to-eye with the five-foot-eight undertaker, his actual height was closer to thirty-six inches. His head was covered in an unruly mop of auburn hair, and it fell in haphazard chunks around the points of his rather large ears. The elf’s nose was slightly crooked and upturned, and his skin was creamy in color, yet rough in texture, and it reminded Medleson of how sand looks just after a wave has washed over it. The sleeves of his white shirt were rolled up to his elbows and the hem fell over the waistband of green linen pants that cinched just below his knees. His feet were fat and sandaled with little tufts of hair sprouting from each toe.

The elf was truly a curious sight to behold inside the reception room, and certainly not what Arterius Medleson was expecting when he’d arrived at the funeral parlor that morning, but as his eyes met Lodie’s, he was reminded once more of the unexpected kindness an elf had once shown him.

“Eh-eh-hem.” Mr. Medleson cleared his throat once more. “Well, I suppose the least I could do is give it some more thought. I do have some projects that have fallen a bit behind, straightening up and the like. I’ll assume that you know what type of business this is here. This environment is not for the faint of heart.”

Relief poured throughout Lodie’s body and he let out the breath he had been holding. “Thank you, Sir! I can assure you that I will do my best Mr…um…I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name.”

“It’s Medleson. Arterius Medleson. And you are?”

“My name is Lodie, Mr. Medleson. It’s nice to make your acquaintance.”

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Word Count Wednesday

What am I working on? This week I have been continuing to work on part two of my magic realism story about Lodie the Elf. Part one ended where Lodie realizes his sneaky detour has caused him to be stranded. Part two explores the funeral home in more detail and also will introduce the funeral director Arterius Medelson. What I originally anticipated to be a short story is becoming much more detailed and involved than I planned. I can definitely foresee a part three and possibly a part four before the work is finished. We'll see what becomes of the final product. I have also been doing some creative journaling, which seems to serve two beneficial functions in my life: a creative outlet and a much more economical form of therapy.

How do I feel about the process? I'm feeling good about it this week. I have made writing each day a priority and so my mind feels more stimulated creatively than before. I look forward to little opportunities throughout the day to get back at it and have been even more anxious than usual to tuck my children into bed at the end of the evening so I can settle into my writing space with a generous glass of wine (or two). I did have to set aside my magic realism story yesterday as the ever-growing length began to feel a bit overwhelming. I plan to revisit it today though.

What am I currently reading? I spent a good chunk of the afternoon catching up on Stephen King's On Writing. Reading through the memoir part of his book has been an easy read and also inspiring. Extrapolating simple memories and expanding upon them seems like a great way to refine writing skills.

On a side note, I've actually always felt a kinship with Stephen King, though, save for my current assigned reading, I have never actually read any of his books. Let me explain why...

I was born in Eastern Maine. As one might expect, I remember nothing of my diaper days. We moved to Tucson, Arizona the summer before my second birthday and traded our snowsuits for suntan lotion. I do, however, have two associations about my early years in this part of the world: Big Hunk candy bars and Stephen King.

First, the candy. Have you ever had this culinary delight? It's eight-inches of chewy delicious nougat scattered with roasted peanuts. Nowadays, you might be able to find it on the bottom shelf of the candy aisle at your local 7-11, but if you happened to be in the Labor and Delivery wing of Eastern Maine Medical Center in mid-September, 1981, you likely would've been handed one by my dad. Apparently this was a hippie's alternative to the traditional passing out of cigars at the birth of a new baby. I had no choice in the matter...I was destined to be a fan of the Big Hunk.

Second, the King. Bangor (pronounced Bang-GER, not Bang-GOR, by the locals) isn't know for much, but it is home to one of the most famous contemporary authors. Stephen King's large residence sat a couple blocks down the street from my own humble abode. I grew up hearing about the black, spiked wrought iron fence that surrounded his property and how his gate was a large spider web with metal spiders guarding the entrance. I didn't remember ever seeing it and as I said, I wasn't particularly a literary fan, but I felt connected to him none-the-less.

I guess in a very strange, roundabout way, Stephen King has been an influence in my life since the beginning. Just not in the way one would assume. While honeymooning back east in 2004, I finally saw for myself the infamous spider gate and felt like I had accomplished a small but significant life goal. It is neat that King's influence is now finally affecting my creative process. This seems like a more normal association.