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Zen Writer Challenge: 9.16.14

September 16, 2014

I’ve just downloaded a neat PC program called ZenWriter. I recommend it for anyone who wants an app that will help them totally zone out and zero-in on their writing. It provides a full-screen notepad with calm music and scenic backgrounds that help you block out any background noise that might interfere with your work.  I was busy editing a piece I had been working on, and I needed to step away from it, take a little break and just go into zen-mode. I figured it would provide the perfect space to just do some stream-of-consciousness-style writing based on some ideas I’ve had floating around in my head. Sometimes I come up with lines I’d love to write, but no story to build around them. I think this will be a great way to capture those thoughts as they occur and share what I’ve come up with: unedit, unrefined, just pure from my own zen.  I’m going to try to do these sporadically, but without any sort of time constraints. I challenge anyone who has this program, or just anyone who likes this idea, to do the same. Here’s my first one of, hopefully, a series.

 

My notebooks are graveyards of words. Unfinished stories left to wither away and die in pages forgotten by time. Ideas that were once so fruitful and full of possibilities have stopped producing fruits of wisdom, instead just collecting dust and grammatical mistakes. Why is it so hard to return to a work that’s gone untouched for so long? Is it because even though new ideas form, you can never quite recapture the emotions and creative surges felt at the time, and therefore can never have any soul left to pour into those words? I’m afraid that all of my works will never be done, because my body fills with creative energy in small spurts of time. I become to enraptured in the ideas of creating that I forget to do just that. I get too excited and must put my pen down to take some time to think, but it’s so tough to pick it up again after that because, by then, the feeling’s already gone.

Is it possible to have creative ADD?

What would be the knee-jerk chemical solution for that? Maybe whiskey will flow through my veins, through my blood, into my fingers and they’ll keep moving and moving and moving and moving the words and thoughts and ideas and notions escaping before I even have time to notice and give up on them.

I fear I’ve noticed them already

I’ve taken the time to read this. Reading has become the enemy of my writing. The more I read the more I hate the words I wrote and the more I want to stop. Maybe I’ll stop reading now and go at this blindly. Put this out there for someone to read and hate but not me–someone else’s hatred of my words bears more fruit than my own. Because if someone hates what I write they’ll be compelled to challenge it with the written word and a new conception of words and a birth of ideas will be formed. But my own hatred will just stall me.

And so more pieces of verse will lie in their coffins. Abandoned, neglected, abused.

But I want you to abuse my words. Abuse them and reuse them and confuse them.

Because if you do, I’ll have to challenge it. And write and write and write and write and write.

 

 

….I’ve stopped.

In Remembrance: 9-11-01

September 12, 2014

I’ve been reading a lot of people’s beautiful accounts of where they were and what they were doing on this day, thirteen years ago (one of note is comix creator Dean Haspiel’s powerful and relatable depiction of his experience that morning.) I realized that I don’t think I’ve ever written down my story.

But that makes me think: why should my story matter? On that same note–why should the story of anyone who wasn’t actually there or didn’t lose anyone on that day matter? Who am I to write an account–I wasn’t in the city when it happened. But, I didn’t have to be there. I didn’t have to have that experience. Because while the nation-wide mourning on this day is a blanketed feeling we may have all experienced, everyone’s own pain, loss, suffering and memories of the day are unique. So, here is my story.

As a child, the one word I could use to describe myself was paranoid. I’m still a pretty paranoid adult, but I used to get *really* freaked out over everything back then. As I’ve mentioned before, I was obsessed with the Book of Revelation, often envisioning different ways the world could possibly end. These thoughts would cloud my mind and make it hard to focus on anything else. If I were having fun, they would interrupt my good time and force themselves into my mind so a day of fun turned into a day of fear. I remember one instance of going down to the city to attend the Ringling Brothers Circus with family. As I walked around and marveled at the big buildings, my awe turned quickly to horror, imagining a bomb going off right in the middle of everything, or the buildings toppling down and crushing everything in their wake. This happened only about a year or so before the events of 9/11 transpired.

I don’t remember much about my day on September 11, 2001. Just that it was remarkably… normal. Every school chose to handle how they told the students what happened differently. Mine opted to have the teachers not say anything at all.

So when the two planes crashed into the Twin Towers on the morning of September 11, 2001, I was completely unaware. Blissfully ignorant that the world was falling down around me—only 20 or so miles away from where I was sitting, in my 8th grade science class.

When I left school that day my grandma was nervously awaiting me. As soon as I got to her she told me the news. “A plane flew into that World Trade Center.” I really had no clue what that meant. I think I responded with something along the lines of, “Oh geez, is everyone ok?” She didn’t respond. She probably didn’t even know where to begin—but the news would tell me everything I needed to know—but never wanted to.

The news for the next few days was a constant stream of reminders of the horrific tragedy that took place. Seeing it happen for the first time—and every time after that—left a knot in my throat and an uneasy feeling in my stomach. I didn’t know what any of this meant, but it felt like a horrible nightmare—one that had plagued me for what felt like years—coming true in a way that I couldn’t control or understand.

My uncle worked on Wall Street when 9/11 happened. We didn’t hear from him for an entire day. It turned out he made it onto a ferry and into New Jersey, where he eventually reached some cousins-in-law who took him in for the night. That uncertainty of where he was or what happened to him didn’t settle until he finally made it home, two days later. When we heard he was ok it was a relief—but it was hard to be happy when so much awfulness was all around us.

It was hard to avoid the news. The only keywords being thrown around at the time were “terrorism,” and “war.” I wanted to shut off everything—including my brain—and pretend like nothing was wrong, but it was impossible. I had to finally face my fear, but it didn’t make it go away. Sleepless nights of hyperventilating and panic attacks that had ceased over the past year returned with a vengeance. I didn’t lose what others had lost. I wasn’t there to experience it firsthand. I didn’t even witness the events as they were unfolding on the news—but I still felt it. I felt everything. We all did.

The year anniversary took place a week after my first day in high school. We congregated in the gym to share our memories. I didn’t like remembering, but I had to. We also had occasional assemblies for “what to do if doomsday occurs” scenarios. I didn’t like having to think about those, but I had to.

Every year after it for a long time I dreaded September 11th, both for fear that it might happen again (my thoughts of that started to only really occur on that day) and simply because I hated remembering. I hated thinking of those images on the TV, recalling my feelings witnessing them and worrying about my uncle. I felt for all those who lost who had to remember each year.

I’ve started to hate remembering less. I still shudder when the news replays the events of that day, but I no longer live in fear of its anniversary each year. I don’t mind reading peoples’ accounts from that day. I’m now ok with sharing what I remember with others.

And that’s why we have to remember.

So now, thirteen years later, I’ve been able to recall my account of that day. Thirteen years—meaning infants who lost their mothers or fathers that morning are the age now that I was when it occurred. It’s surreal to think of. How far have we come since then? In some ways, tremendously, in others, frightfully not. But if there’s one day where we can all stop and just—remember, together—maybe we’ll someday have the ability to come together more than just once a year, and not just because of a tragedy. Maybe that’s wishful thinking, and I know that’s not thinking I often have, but if this day instills hope rather than fear, then we have come a long way.

Happy Bloomsday!

June 16, 2014

Happy Bloomsday!

To commemorate the day, here’s something I wrote a few months ago for a series on Tumblr called “…Is My Thing,”

The “…Is My Thing” series asks people to write guest posts about the book that was the starting point, or the source of their field of interest within literature.

For mine, I chose… you guessed it, Ulysses.

Hope you enjoy!

My Life In Pizza

June 29, 2013

I get hit with nostalgia often–like on a weekly, if not daily basis. Certain smells can transport me back to a specific place and time from my past. I have an absurd relationship with déjà vu–it doesn’t have to be something hyper-specific for me to feel like I’m experiencing an event all over again. And sometimes I feel as though I can command it–drive down a certain block, think an unrelated thought, and I’m back to this moment in time that just makes me feel… good.

I know, this is getting just a little too verbose yet still somehow very vague. I don’t need to explain what nostalgia or déjà vu is, I’m sure most people already know, and probably experience it often themselves. And I know, we kind of live in a culture of romanticized nostalgia that can get far too out of hand for its own good and even borderline dangerous. But, it’s not as though I smell a scent of rosewood and it reminds me of when I was four years old, rummaging through old luggage trunks in my grandfather’s attic and experiencing flight as I lived vicariously through the pictures of all the places he traveled in his youth as a traveling salesman.

Ok, maybe that never happened. Maybe I never spent early afternoons rummaging through old trunks gazing at souvenirs from across the globe. Maybe I don’t actually know what “rosewood” is and had to look it up to make sure I wasn’t confusing it with that Cher movie. And maybe my grandfather never traveled, or owned fancy luggage, or even an attic. Maybe both my grandparents have lived with me and my mom my entire life in cramped apartments. Maybe my grandfather’s longest “trip” was from Yonkers to Connecticut, where my mom cursed at him because he kept counting down all of the exits. Maybe my grandfather was never a traveling salesman, but instead a bartender. None of that really matters, that example was just for effect anyway. And, for the record, I’d rather take away awful puns and parlor jokes overheard from bar patrons than some dusty old luggage, anyway (though a nice old-fashioned trunk would look amazing at the foot of my bed.)

The point is, there are times when déjà vu and nostalgia are just expected–of course if you smell the exact same scent as you smelled 15 years ago it might remind you of some time or place or person. But, for me, I’m often reminded of small clips from very specific moments of my youth by random things that are in no way related to that certain time. And it’s often different things that remind me of that same moment, too–and I can almost command them, if I really, really want to.

“And what is that moment in time?” you may ask. It’s this: a gray October afternoon, Halloween to be exact. I’m sitting at home in my kitty cat costume watching Caddyshack.

 

That’s it. That’s literally fucking it.

 

“Did she seriously ramble on for four paragraphs about nostalgia and déjà vu and other cryptic things just to tell us that occasionally she remembers watching Caddyshack in a cat costume when she was a kid?”

Well, yea. I guess I did.

But I suppose what I was trying to get at was this: there are certain moments in life that “define” us. There are things that make us aware of who we are and what our purpose in life may or may not be. Maybe we listen to that song, that one perfect song that has those brilliant lyrics that just capture the essence of our being so well it was like it was written about us. Maybe we pick up that novel and feel as if we’re reading our own autobiography, just told through the lens of someone else as a fictionalized character. Maybe we can name three or four or five things that “describe” us. Maybe safety pins and kerosene and porcelain dolls and India ink are your thing. Put those four objects on a table and it tells your life story better than any author could. Maybe rosewood, old pictures, dusty luggage and stuffy attics are what defines you, and that one nostalgic moment in your life shaped you and, no matter what you do or where you go in life, returning to that moment in your mind is your where”home” truly is.

This might all be getting a little too far-fetched, maybe even nonsensical to many. But I’m sure others have experienced an intrinsic connection with inanimate object that just made sense to them and their views of life. Maybe.

Smells, thoughts, feelings, emotions aside, there’s one thing I’d like to explain my life in.

That thing is pizza.pizza copy

Let’s return to that moment of my childhood mentioned before: It’s not that I just remember watching TV on Halloween, it’s the vague details I can recall from the rest of that day that will better help me explain. I was about four years old, wearing my kitty costume, watching Caddyshack to pass the time. I didn’t go trick-or-treating. I lived in an apartment building full of older women who weren’t too keen on opening the door for people they didn’t know. (My family was no exception, we were the awful “grinches” of Halloween who would pretend we weren’t home and wait until the kids knocking on the door inquiring about candy left before we could continue chewing away at our stash of mini-Snickers bars.) I doubt my mom would have enjoyed carting me around to get candy from strangers, either. Instead, we waited until we had to leave to pick my grandma up from work, and then we’d just buy candy at the nearby CVS on our way there. It might not be “free,” but it would come without the high price of social interaction we so militantly dreaded. Seeing my grandma after work was the real “treat” that I looked forward to. I missed her when she was gone and couldn’t wait until she returned to play with her and talk to her.

And there was also the high probability that she would come out of work with a very special gift for me: a perfect slice of pizza.

My grandma worked in a pizza parlor from before I was born until I was about five years old. You know the old saying, “like a kid in a candy shop”–fuck that noise, being a little kid in a pizza parlor is where it’s at. Occasionally I’d get to go to work with her and watch her create her art. I’m not saying that to be facetious, either, making the perfect pizza is an unrecognized and vastly under-appreciated art form. A flawless slice from a local, family-owned pizza shop is a piece of fine art, while every Dominos and Pizza Hut’s mass-produced grease-filled slabs of under-cooked dough, fake cheese and “tomato” sauce are the maligned commercial art. My favorite part was not only watching her skillfully make pie after pie, but also getting to steal handfuls of shredded mozzarella cheese when no one was looking. My grandma made the best pizza around. She knew the ideal sauce-to-cheese ratio like the back of her hand, and could successfully reproduce the recipe over & over again. I always knew when the slice she’d bring home from work was hers compared to one of the other cook’s, and I’d be disappointed if it wasn’t one of her masterpieces. I’d settle for nothing less than the best.

I’m a harsh critic of pizza and a frequent searcher of the best slices around, but it doesn’t stop me from trying any and every kind. I get as kiddy as a child at the prospect of pizza and the phrase “pizza party” tickles me to no end. That said, I’m not of the belief that all free pizza is good pizza. In second grade I remember scoffing at the slices we ate at a pizza party we had in our classroom. “Grandma, I don’t know where they got that pizza from, but it tasted like… like… like ARTICHOKES! Not pizza!” (I loved artichokes dearly, don’t get me wrong, but pizza’s supposed to taste like pizza and nothing else!) I’ll order Dominos from time to time, but don’t call it “pizza,” call it “Dominos,” for it is most definitely a food item of its own category. And don’t even get me started on the tomato tortilla hybrid that they dare try to pass of as pizza at California Pizza Kitchen…

And I absolutely loathe anytime someone tries to inform me that Chicago deep-dish is better than a New York slice. Pizza is the perfect meal because it can be a sit-down dinner or an on-the-go snack. I don’t want to have to mentally prep to eat pizza, it should just be consumed.

I’m sure you’re dying to know, so I’ll walk you through my list of qualities a good slice of pizza needs:

  • An almost-paper, crispy wafer-ish type dough. Not burnt, but seasoned brown from years of wear from a good, old pizza oven.
  • The dough should also have some kind of flavor, not just a bread-y taste. And though it’s thin, it should still be durable.
  • A good heaping of tomato sauce. Not so much that it drips all over, but enough to properly coat the pizza and not make the dough soggy.
  • As crispy and non-soggy as the dough should be, it should also be able to be folded over without breaking or ripping in half.
  • CHEESE. Cheese-to-sauce ratio must be on par.
  • Grease. Most definitely NOT over-greased, but at least a little bit to get that nice, small drip.

I could go in-depth on toppings, too, but that will take far too long.

I’ve been fortunate enough to find a few places that make some really delicious pizza.  But I feel like I’m forever searching for the one place that makes the perfect pizza. The one that will send me back in time… the taste that will transport me instantaneously back to Halloween of ’92, my old living room, plopped down right in front of that TV.

Funny, isn’t it? To seek out a taste to remind me of a time when I wasn’t even eating? Isn’t it weird what triggers things in our minds? Isn’t it weird how finicky nostalgia can be?

I mean, the more I think about it, I didn’t even dress up as a cat when I was four. I think my cat costume was from when I was two (though I would wear it just for fun after that as well). I dressed up as Cinderella when I was four. And, thinking of it again, the CVS on my street didn’t even open until I was about six or seven…

Strange how the mind can mix up facts.

But I do remember being dressed up as Cinderella and sitting in my grandma’s pizza parlor, waiting for her to finish her shift. I remember the crinoline under my dress itching my tiny thighs. I remember being bored and wanting to go out and play in the park across the street, instead of sitting in a pizza shop waiting. I remember seeing a booger on the table I was seated at and it scarring me for a while after, not really wanting to eat there or even eat pizza at all for quite some time. I remember venturing to the back of the store and smelling the awful back-alley stench and seeing the broken down space behind the ovens.

I remember those moments quite vividly, actually.

And I remember all the times my grandmother quit that job, and the awful experiences she had working there.

But she did make a damn good pizza.

So, if I had to lay the inanimate objects out on a table that are characteristically “me,” what would they be? A cat costume, Halloween trinkets, a slice of pizza… ? Do these things define me? Does that one single moment I return to time and time again say anything about my personality and the person I am and wish to become?

No, I think it just means I like nostalgic vibes, I dig Halloween and I really enjoy eating pizza. It’s probably why I’ve spent a good portion of my day writing this, and maybe it’s why the person who I’m in a committed relationship with has a birthday on Halloween, and why I’ll never turn down a slice of free pizza, no matter where it’s from. These maybe facets of my personality, but not my life as a whole. What, did you think that my constant quest for the perfect slice is actually a symbol of my search to find my ideal “self”? That maybe I know the qualities about myself that I need to tap into to be the best me I can be, but I’m still working on creating the masterpiece that is my life by trying over and over again to harness all those qualities and apply them in a positive way. That maybe no matter who I encounter and what I try, I’m still searching for my true, perfect self, but that one moment in time I can return to at any point is my safe haven, my “home” to go back to when I feel lost in my searching…

 

Then you’re reading too much into this. I just really like pizza.

 

“Did she really ramble on for fifteen paragraphs and 2242 words just to tell us that she likes pizza?”

Well, yea. I guess I did.

  1. If you have to take your life cues from a list written by a snarky blogger, you’re doing it all wrong.

Think about your life in relation to the seasons. What is your favorite season and why? During which season were you born? How did you feel as a child about each season? Have significant events happened during one season over the others? How do you see the world around you change at the start of each season? Use these musings to fuel an essay about one or all of the seasons. 

As I’m sitting here writing this, I’m in a quaint park on a residential street. It’s close enough to the main, highly trafficked road to be distracting—but just enough to serve as a reminder that my time here is temporary. Not like my time on Earth or anything existential like that, just that I have about 45 minutes to write this before my lunch break is over and I have to return to the office.

But as for now, now I’m in this park—just close enough to reality to keep me grounded but far enough away to let me live in my own fantasy world, if only for a short while. I’m perched upon a stone stool, situated in front of a matching stone chess table, created for someone with all the time in the world to just sit, play, enjoy—not for people on borrowed time like myself. Not for many at all really, since no one ever seems to be in this park. The sun is beating down upon me, but there’s a breeze just cool enough to keep it comfortable. There’s a bed of vibrant pink tulips to my right. There’s a child singing in her front yard just across the street. Birds are chirp, chirp, chirping away… all of that good shit. Spring has arrived… and about two months too damn late.

Ok, maybe that’s a bit unfair. Technically spring equinox is on March 20th, which means that spring is really only just over a month late. And sure, the weather never really changes in accordance with the seasons on the first day of their supposed arrival. And yes, there’s also that pesky climate change to factor in—but screw that noise—I’m getting older and more and more impatient in my advancing years.

I don’t think of the seasons in terms of dates and meteorological facts and science—I think about seasons and weather in relation to years passed. Last year, spring “arrived” around the second or third week in March, and then stuck around for a while. The same goes for the spring the year before that. And, come to think of it, the year before that too. Right now it’s the first week of May and the month of renewal is only just barely, cautiously approaching—like a middle-aged woman slowly dipping her toes into a just-a-tad-too cool swimming pool. But for me, it should have been out there, past the kiddie pool, and wading around in the 4’2 foot section by now. (Are these pool references indicative enough of my yearning for summer?)

Sure, we were “due for” another snowy, long, “bad” winter, but that doesn’t mean I have to be cool with it (forgive the pun). I remember analyzing a piece of poetry in the first literature class I ever attended in college—I don’t remember the poem itself, but it prompted a discussion of the “rhythm” of the seasons. Spring is a time of rebirth while winter is a time of death. Death doesn’t have to be taken in the most literal sense—it could also mean a stoppage of creative thought and expression. To me, winter is a time of stagnancy. The cold air and obtrusive, dirty snow forces me to retreat, cowering under my fortress of blankets, cut off from any outside creative influence that might be trying to break in. A time of idleness.  A time of waiting… and my God, do I hate waiting. With each passing year, the “winter blahs,” as I affectionately call ‘em, get me badder than the year prior. The cold, the grey, and the wind hits me harder each time.

So the fact that it is May and it still feels as though winter hasn’t quite left the building, the fact that it’s bitter chill hasn’t yet been found keeled over on the toilet, means that I have a harsh pile of excuses to fall into and make lie-angels in instead of creating. The humid, bitter rain is only just approaching—even  the April showers are late to my pity party.  Summer seems so far off that it feels like the only option is to create my own “summer,” or even my own “spring” for that matter. Albert Camus once said “In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.” That absurd bastard. But I do suppose he has a point… imagination is my tool and my pen and paper is my broken toy that needs repair—it will just take envisioning the perfect season I want to experience and creating it myself, even if only in writing.

…Hey, that’s not a bad idea. Maybe I’ll start working on that when Mother Nature stops being such a bitch

I’ve been pretty down on myself lately. In case you haven’t noticed, I haven’t really been following up on my resolution to post fiction, non-fiction and poetry based on weekly writing prompts. That’s no one’s fault by my own. I’ve got writing prompts from weeks and months ago saved across multiple computers, email inboxes and USB drives. I return to them every now and again and—if I’m lucky—maybe add a sentence or two to each piece. If I let them go long enough with few enough paragraphs, I lose interest in where the piece was going, or forget the genius idea I had for it because I forgot to make note of it because didn’t have a pen on hand, or whatever. In the 21st Century Digital Age of iPhones and tablets and mind-to-walkman transmissions (that’s a thing, right?), I’m not even certain if that’s a viable excuse anymore. (EDIT: No, it’s not.)  In short, I’ve been coming up with more creative excuses to not read or write than creative words to pen on paper.

I recently read a wonderful post on Looking For Pemberley on writing even when you don’t feel like it by Miss E. And just a few minutes ago I read another excellent piece on continuing to write after your work has been rejected on The Rumpus. And I soaked in every word. “I get it…” I thought. “I sooo get it…” Especially in regards to Miss E’s post. I read it in the car on my iPhone, and just let the sentiment resonate with me. But what did I proactively DO after reading it? After reading it on this magical technological device where I can not only READ but also WRITE? Nothing. I did nothing. I thought about how true it was and how, no matter what, I must push through and write, but I only thought—I did not act.

I guess a big part of my problem is that I WANT to be writing. I want to be writing a lot, actually. I’m just NOT. I’m thinking A LOT but writing A LITTLE. And again, the only person to blame for that is myself. I’ve found myself in a rather strange predicament lately where I feel a bit unsettled and uncertain of some things in my life—nothing too earth-shattering, but enough to leave me feeling sufficiently… bummy. And I’ve been coming down pretty hard on myself and my place in the world because of that. My only resolution has been to do some things on my own accord—mainly get back to writing regularly. Finish pieces of prose I’ve been dying to finally cap off and edit. And read voraciously—finish the three books and zines I’ve started reading but can’t quite complete. Stop over-analyzing why I haven’t been able to finish them and just DO it instead.

Today after reading that wonderful post on the Rumpus, I decided to search in my backpack for my notebook instead of just numbing my mind with Facebook games (sorry, Disney’s City Girl!) and actually work on one of the six or seven pieces I’m “in the middle of.” And in my search, what do I find? Two notebooks, one novel and a Poets & Writers magazine. That’s not that bizarre, but it made me realize that I have the tools at my disposal, with me on my person, literally every day of the week. And what do I do? Let them sit in that dark knapsack waiting. Being unused. Adding weight to my back but very little else. I also found at least three different blue pens. Why so many? Because when I start writing something it bugs me if I start in one pen type/color and change to another. It also creates a good excuse for me to NOT write “Ugh, but I started this short story with a blue fountain pen—I can’t finish it with a black ballpoint!” (Again—creativity wasted on excuses and not on actual writing.) Well, I’ve got both blue and black fountain and ballpoint pens AND even some pencils on me right now, so that solves that tremendous dilemma.

What’s ironic is, now that my lunch break is winding down, I won’t have the actual time until after 5:00 PM to get back to writing with those utensils and those notebooks I found. But you know what? It’s ok. Because while it may seem like I instead decided to procrastinate by posting on here, I did it by writing. And that’s at least something. And hopefully a sign of good things to come.

Cheers, and keep those pens and pencils (or styluses and fingers!) working and your creative waters flowing.

Write a story of 1,000 words from a main character’s perspective about the moment his or her life took a significant turn. Keep the description about the moment sparse, focusing on what happened versus how it happened. For an example, read Denis Johnson’s short story “Car Crash While Hitchhiking.”  Poetry & Writers.

 

Architectural Digest

“Don’t you know that he’s gay?” Mallory’s words struck me like lightning, even if I wasn’t entirely sure what they meant.

“S-so…” I managed to stutter.

“Gay—you know what that means don’t you?”

I guess my blank stare answered for me.

“He only likes men. Like, loves men. He’ll only fall in love with another man. That’s what gay means—when a man loves a man,” Mallory stated, matter-of-factly.  She was so worldly, she had learned so much more in her twelve years than I had in my seven.

“B-but… but he’s married… to a lady… how can that be?” I felt not only saddened, but betrayed. How could he be in love with a man if he was in a caring and affectionate relationship—not just a relationship, a MARRIAGE—to Carol?

“Jeez, Louise! It’s only a TV show! They’re not married in real life. Just on TV. You know that TV’s not real life…right?!” Mallory was getting impatient with me. Suddenly I felt so small, so much younger than my cousin.  Even though I was aware of our age difference, she always felt like my peer. Someone I could confide in and know that I wouldn’t be judged. Someone who could teach me things without talking down to me or making me feel like an inferior being. But now, they playing field didn’t seem so level any more. I felt like nothing more than a stupid, little child.

“Like, did you think it was on now? It takes place in the ‘70s. It’s not the ‘70s. Jeez, don’t you know ANYTHING?”  Her words got more and more biting and with each syllable it felt like a jagged knife being pushed slowly into my heart.

“…I know…” I managed to whisper sheepishly.

But I didn’t. I didn’t know anything. And in that moment, I became aware of the vast amount of nothing that I knew. A few minutes ago we were engaging in our normal summer routine. Every Wednesday afternoon my cousin would come over while her mom went to work and we’d watch TV together, then we would go to the park with my mother, come back for lunch, and then watch some more TV. When Aunt Karen got home from her job at the daycare center, she’d pick up Mallory. This happened every Wednesday now that stuff was different in Mallory’s house. These were all things I knew, they were all certainties.

I also knew that every day at 1:35 pm The Brady Bunch was on TBS. This was something I could count on. Mallory and I sat on the floor in my living room with the lights off to keep cool. “If we sit on the floor we’ll be cooler since the AC’s broken—I learned that in science class this year!” I informed Mallory. She just shrugged and plopped herself down on the floor next to me. She became infatuated with picking the polish off her nails while I remained infatuated with the person I thought—no, KNEW—was the man I would marry someday.

There was just something about Mike Brady; so tall, so handsome. He wore groovy threads, had the best perm I’d ever seen and was just the perfect husband and father. I knew it was wrong to fall in love with a married man—that’s something I learned in Bible studies—but I couldn’t help it. Part of me wished I could be adopted into the Brady family, but I wasn’t sure if I would be a daughter or a wife.

“People in the ‘70s dressed so badly,” Mallory stated, disinterested in the drama unfolding before us. Will the ever decide on the right wallpaper for their bedroom? “Clothes today are so much better. And ugh, look at their hair.” I liked their hair, but I guess I was wrong. “But I mean Greg’s still kinda cute,” she added.

“I like Mike Brady,” I blurted out. I didn’t mean to say it, but I automatically felt so much cooler and more grown up for having done so. “He’s really cute.” I looked to Mallory for some kind of response, but she just kept playing with her nails. “I’d like to marry him someday,” I meant it.

Mallory finally looked up and stared at me, wide-eyed. I thought I had said something that impressed her—until she started laughing, that is.  “Don’t you know that he’s gay?” I didn’t know what “gay,” was or why it meant I couldn’t love Mike Brady. The rest of the episode ended in a blur, and I never did find out what wallpaper they finally chose.

“Hey, Louise, are you going to watch Beverly Hills 90210 later?” Mallory asked me after the show was over. I shook my head “no.” I wasn’t allowed to watch that show—I was too young, there would be too much I wouldn’t understand. “Lame. Dylan’s such a cutie. I’d marry him someday,” Mallory said proudly. I guess Dylan wasn’t gay. 

Mallory and I didn’t really talk for the rest of the day. I was just too ashamed. But before she left I figured it was as good a time as any to ask her that one last thing I didn’t understand, but wanted to know anyway, “Mallory, why doesn’t your dad live with you anymore?”

“Cuz him and mom are getting a divorce.” She said, taking a sip of her Hi-C Ecto Cooler. I supposed that “divorce” meant that two people who are in love stop falling in love. I’d heard that once on TV, but I still didn’t really understand it. Was Mallory’s dad gay? How does someone just stop loving their wife and daughter? It seemed like something Mike Brady would never do. But I guess I was wrong about that, too. I wanted to ask her more, but I held back. The only thing I really understood that day was to never ask a question you don’t really want the answer to.

And now, 20 years later to that exact day, I can still say I don’t really know much about love.

In honor of the 100th anniversary on February 1 of New York City’s famed Grand Central Station, write an essay about a time in your life when you travelled—it could be daily travel, such as the commute to and from a job; seasonal travel, such as heading to a beach community every summer; or a vacation, such as a trip to a foreign country. Focus on what compelled you to go and the transition of leaving one place and arriving in another.

“Come on, where the hell is this bus? You know, years ago, the bus would come a few minutes early and they’d let you sit inside with the air conditioner on if it was hot out like this, not make you wait in the heat like animals.” The blazing sun beat down upon my small face as my grandmother and I waited for the #26 Beeline to take us home. Every day after school an executive decision had to be made: walk 10 minutes and wait in the heat for the bus or walk 10 minutes and wait in the heat for the train? On this day, we opted for the bus. By the time we reached the bus stop, we realized it probably would have been cooler to wait for the train.

With my mother now working a 9-5 job, my grandma and I were left to our own devices to get home. If the weather was nice enough, we’d walk. The walk through the quaint town my grammar school was located in usually stopped being so wonderful when my heavy, rolly backpack started to weigh us down and we’d spend the rest of the trip irritated and praying that someone, anyone, would spot us alongside the road and give us a lift. Sometimes we were just lucky enough for that to happen, but not very often. Our other option was the train. We’d hop on and ride it the one stop home, hopping off right as the ticket-taker got to our car. I never realized that riding one stop rarely required a ticket, so I felt as if we were doing something wrong and dangerous. My grandmother noticed the look of amazement on my face the first time it happened, so she made a game out of it from that point on. “Quick, he’s in the next car; let’s stand by the door so he won’t notice us!” She’d whisper to me. It made the humdrum trip exhilarating, and then quickly back to mundane once we’d leave the magical Grand Central-bound train and get off at the Fleetwood stop, walking through the pigeon-shit piss-scented tunnel into the outside world. Then I’d get a bagel sandwich at Dunkin’ Donuts, which was pretty nice.

It was the last week of fourth grade and it was unseasonably warm for late June. Fortunately, the last week of school also meant it was dress down week, so I had the option of wearing something cooler than the stuffy white collared cotton top and navy blue cotton/polyester blend shorts, cuffed ankle socks and loafers uniform I’d wear any other day. (Most girls opted for the much more flattering light blue skirt, but I found the awkward boy-tailored shorts to be more my style. And in 8th grade when I would ruin them and many a classroom chair with period blood I’ll look back and be content with my clothing decision.) However, my forest green coolots were still not cutting it in the unbearable heat. I closed my eyes and dreamed of going home, changing into my swimsuit, diving into my pool in our backyard, and swimming, the cool, chlorine water covering my entire body.

Then I remembered that I didn’t have a pool. Or a backyard. And that my best option would be to turn on my old, cumbersome AC in my room and take a cold shower or bath—which was never fulfilling NOR did it ever really do the trick of cooling me down. But it was my only option, and so I embraced it, and thinking about it at least helped me cope with our wait. My grandmother was still cursing the bus driver when the bus crawled up to the bus stop, #52: Destination Secor Housing, Bronx, NY. Damn!

The bus was an adventure in and of itself as well. The yellow cord was like a lifeline, forget to pull it and you’re done for, doomed to circle around your town on the bus forever. Or you could pull it at the next stop and have to trek your way back to where you’re supposed to be in the snow, scuffing up the brand new glasses you just got from the eye doctor. Another bus creeped up to the stop, #26: Bronxville RR Station. Score!

The bus driver scurried off the bus frantically with a phone in his hand. “Just one moment, everyone, I need to handle a situation at the bus depot. We’ll be leaving shortly,” he said with a think Island accent as he rushed off into the shade. The bus was parked. And locked. And air conditioned. And we, all of my elderly homeward-bound comrades and myself, were on the outside looking in. I’ll spare you the swears that flew out from my grandmother’s mouth, as this is a family publication.

The daily commute is a thing that brings people together. Office workers who hate each other 90% of the time can commiserate if the ride to work was hellish. No one argues whether or not traffic is bad. But even when gas prices soar and roadwork and rubbernecking gets the best of you, pretty much everyone agrees that public transportation is about as bad as it can get. I’m not one of those people. Getting to zone out in my own world for 45 minutes to an hour, doing nothing but watching the world pass quickly by while simultaneously getting in some of the best people watching ever is one of my favorite things. Getting to see familiar faces everyday and piece together life stories based on where they got on and off provides wonderful material for writing. The only thing I really dislike about it is the waiting. The knowing you’ll have to brave the weather but not knowing HOW long you’ll have to brave it for can be a killer. Despite that, I’m thankful for those public transportation trips of my youth. The years of travelling with my grandmother built up my knowledge and resilience in my later, license-less years. But, I mean, if you’re offering me a ride, sure I’ll take it …

The bus driver returned a few minutes later and let us all onto the comfortable, non-sweltering bus. We were able to finally breathe and enjoy the cool air for the five-minute ride home. Our journey was coming to a close. At my grandma’s signal, I reached my small hand up and yanked the yellow-cord. I beamed when the bell gave out a little “ding” and the stop sign at the front of the bus flashed. As the bus approached the stop I could see our apartment, where my bed and my TV and, most of all, my air conditioner were. Repeats of Arthur called my name. The heat wouldn’t bother me anymore, and victory was so close I could taste it. We exited the bus and slugged our way over to our side of the apartment complex and made our way to the front door. The sun was bearing down on us, my skin felt clammy and I could feel the beads of sweat forming after only being outside again for a few minutes. But we made it, we were there. Home was where my heart and sweaty body longed to be. My grandmother placed the key in the keyhole and … nothing happened. It was the wrong key. She had the wrong keys. We had the wrong keys. There was no getting inside until someone either came out and let us in, or we maneuvered our way in through the basement on the opposite side of the building. Even then, we’d still be stuck in the hallway of our apartment until either my mother or grandfather got home hours later.

Another thing I’ve learned from the travels of my youth is to always remember to bring your keys. Do not lose them, and don’t forget them at home. This is something I’m still working on.

In the end, the summer had its victory over us. And I did the only thing I could to accept our crippling defeat: “Maybe we could go and play in the park?”

The slide never burned more than it did on that day, but dammit, it still felt good.

I promise I didn’t skip/forget a week of prompts! It’s just that the fiction prompt I chose to work on last week actually turned out to be a bigger undertaking than I had anticipated. Usually, I’ll post a piece even if it’s unfinished, but for that one I’d really like to flesh it out even more and see where it goes before I throw it up on the old ‘Press. So I’m continuing on with this week’s prompt instead. This time I chose poetry—which is pretty odd for me. I’ll come right out and say it: I hate poetry. Ok, that’s not entirely true; I just don’t consider myself to be the strongest “poet” or poetry writer. It’s a form I struggle with, and even if I sit down and write out an ok one, I’m still never “satisfied” with it. I mean, I’m usually never super satisfied with most things I write, but sometimes my blood just curls when I look back at poetry I’ve written. It always feels so forced and overly formulaic. And no matter what form or rules I follow, it just feels wrong if I don’t make it rhyme. So I figured I’d give myself a little challenge and try out this week’s poetry prompt. And the end result: I’m not too thrilled. Maybe I’m being too harsh because it’s poetry, but I feel like I really can never get the hang of it. Maybe it’s just this prompt, or the word and definitions I chose, but I’m just not feeling it. I’m still posting it because there’s always going to be not-so-awesome stuff: a truth that needs to be realized for any writer. And any writing exercise is good, even if it yields less than stellar results. So here’s my poem: I’m more than willing to accept any and all criticism—it will actually be more than appreciated!

…………………………………………

Choose any word from the dictionary and read its definitions. Write a poem using only the language of these definitions. Try repeating them in different combinations and using line breaks to create unexpected phrases. Experiment with how far you can push the limits of the language you’re working with. Use the word you’ve chosen as the title of the poem.

in·teg·u·ment

n.

1. A natural outer covering or coat, such as the skin of an animal or the membrane enclosing an organ.

2. Something that covers or encloses; especially : an enveloping layer (as a skin, membrane, or cuticle) of an organism or one of its parts.

3. The protective layer around an ovule that becomes the seed coat.

4. The outer protective layer or covering of an animal, such as skin or a cuticle.

……………………………

Integument

Skin is natural, enveloping animals and their kin,

Are we really more than breathing organisms?

Or just layers of membranes and skin,

Divided, cut, broken into different schisms

How different are we from seeds?

Our coats provide warmth from weather

What varies us from weeds?

Ovules protected by skin, cows enveloped in leather.

Kill the cuticle on the nail

Prick, prod, stab, cut, pull

Make them luscious, make them frail

Cut the leaves before they’re full.

Coat the skin, enclose the membrane

Cover the organism, the cuticle of its parts

Protective seed, surrounds the brain

Pistons, stamens, grunts, yelps and farts

We’re all fragments, mechanisms working in rhythm

Layers upon layers to peel away

What does it mean to be in a kingdom?

What difference does it make?

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