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I  started this writing prompt a week ago but did not get the chance to finish it. Now, wrapped up like a burrito in a blanket fending off the freezing cold, I figured it’s time to get back at it.

I can tell you what I wasn’t thinking about Monday morning as I was sitting impatiently in my car, waiting for it to melt: writing. I can mention a few colorful words in between shivers that may have floated across my brain, but nothing I’d be comfortable putting down in writing. But now, safe and warm inside, I’m ready to write. Inspired by Marilyn Armstrong’s “Odd Ball Photo Challenge,” I’m going to take this cold, brutal winter and turn it into my muse. 


What is it about icicles that makes them so beautiful? It’s just frozen water–we don’t take the time to just stop and stare at or photograph ice cubes, but why are we inclined to do so with icicles? Is it the way they hang there, seemingly suspended in mid-air, dangling before us like naturally-occurring wind chimes? Or is it because they’re dangerous? Gaze long enough to appreciate their beauty, gaze too long and you’ll never gaze at anything again.

Winter isn’t beautiful because it’s picturesque, winter is beautiful because it’s deadly.

Time seems to stand still in the cold months. Stagnation settles in and there’s nothing but whistling wind to cut the eerie silence as the night creeps in early to take over the day. We grow tired, weary, exhausted from being tired and weary and hibernate from friends, family, obligations and life–awakened only by some form of tragedy. We rear our heads from our long winter’s nap only to say goodbye, never to start anew like the false promises of New Year’s bring. Funerals seem to happen more often in the cold months between fall and winter. Maybe it’s because black attracts the sun and no one wants to be sweating while they’re grieving–even God knows a thing or two about fashion faux-pas. We pile layer upon layer of black on ourselves and shiver through the tears. We impatiently wait for spring to bring with it the good news.

But why does that make winter beautiful?

Because of the temporal nature of the shortest season of the year, because it’s a constant reminder of how life is fleeting, because it’s the time of the year when you most often want to cry and give up, the stillness of the season is simultaneously frightening and comforting. To take the time to stop and survey the beauty around you can be the only calming thing the world has to offer–drink in those sheets of white covering every surface before they melt or deteriorate into gross mixes of earth and dirt and street debris. Appreciate everything as it’s frozen in time, because it won’t be for long.

Stare directly at those icicles hanging above you. They might kill you, but they’re reminding you that you’re still here, now.

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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.

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?

We each have our own approach to writing stories—some writers compose quickly and broadly, leaving the sentence-level refinements for later, while others labor over each sentence until its worded just right before moving on. Identify which kind of writer you are. Then revise a story you’ve been working on, applying the approach you don’t normally take. — from Poets & Writers

I stepped away from this piece for a while, not for any real reason. I decided this prompt was a good way to jump back into it. Normally, I write everything very quickly, very often using incorrect words and spelling and then wait until I’m finished before I go back and edit it. To change it up, I decided to look back and make edits on this before continuing, then labor over each sentence and paragraph before jumping into the next. I’m sure this could stand another round of edits, but I’ll do that later. Right now I’m focusing on each paragraph as it comes to me. This piece is unfinished, but this is the start of it. I started writing the conclusion to this awhile ago (something I also don’t really do) and I plan on piecing it all together when the time comes. But for now, this is what I worked on and came up with. I call this “Belle’s On the Boardwalk,” (giving something a title before I start writing it is an approach I also never usually take!).

Belle’s on the Boardwalk 

Most people don’t fantasize about the mundane, the ordinary, the common. Most people would much rather dream of Lambourghinis and diamonds and TVs, not of corned beef hash and eggs sunny-side up. I would not consider myself to be the likes of “most people.”

Growing up I had Barbies, I had Cabbage Patch dolls, I had Nintendo video games; I had everything a little girl could ask for. Above all of those fancy material goods, however, my favorite toy by far was my Fisher Price kitchenette set I had from the age of 5, and kept until I was about 15. It was molded, crusty and on its last legs when I finally sent it to the Children’s Toy Junk Yard in the sky—but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t shed a tear when I finally sent it on its way to the otherworld. I remember seeing it rolling down the hill, landing on top of the giant heap of junk, mingling with other children’s toys of yesteryear, all conglomerating at the bottom like a plastic orgy a misfit island. But instead of second chances and new beginnings, their future would only go up in blazes. I walked back to my dad’s pickup truck, playing it cool like it didn’t bother me, all while stroking the plastic fried eggs I saved from the set in my pocket, which now hold a special place on the kitchen wall in my apartment.

While never-ending marathons of Lifestyles of the Rich and the Famous played behind me, I viewed my future through a greasy spoon. The whimsical did nothing for me, and while other little girls dreamed of being princesses and fairies and sang their favorite lines from The Little Mermaid, I was content with parking myself on our red plaid couch in the basement and idolizing my own personal fairy goddesses—Julia Childs and the Two Fat Ladies. I’d write down every minor detail to every fricassee, every quiche, every flambe. Unfortunately, my rather lower-middle class upbringing left a lot to be desired, as our big family dinner outings would mostly be to White Castle or Wendy’s.

However, there were those few times when we would go out for special occasions, be it my brother’s graduation or my sister’s communion, when we would venture to the fantastical world of culinary heaven—Sally’s Diner. Sally’s wasn’t just a run-of-the-mill diner, oh no, it was THE run-of-the-mill diner. Think of every diner you’ve ever seen depicted in a movie—pastel colors and checkerboard details, busy busty waitresses in pink often ill-fitting dresses and matching hats. The whole area was built like a train-car, while old men with newspapers focused on the horses guzzling down strong black coffee, and worker men stopping by for hash in the morning, or turkey triple deckers in the evening. It was busy, loud, and full of movement. It was perfect. I knew from the first time I ever stepped into Sally’s that slinging hash was in my future, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

I pursued a culinary arts degree in college—much to the chagrin of my parents’ paychecks. I always planned on paying loans off myself, but even I had to think realistically about it: chances were I’d be waitressing for a long while before managing a place of my own. And if the shirts were tight enough, the tips were higher—but even those couldn’t pay rent and tuition all at once. So I pressed my nose to the grind stone—then used said grind stone to grind coriander for masala—to make sure every penny was well worth it. I was determined to get the best “college experience” possible, academically, that is. My school was voted the number #1 party culinary college (Princeton Review offers some interesting sub-genres), but I wanted none of it. I wasn’t there to party and I sure as hell wasn’t there to bond or to engage in any hobby and culture-based extra-curricular activities. I was there to learn, to cook, to work and to “experience” everything I needed in the “real world,” not the so-called “fun-filled” entertainment most people my age were engaging in. I had regular dates with my textbooks, my friends were my notebooks, my social circle consisted of my professors and chefs, and the only experimenting I did was in the kitchen. And I loved every damn minute of it. And just to ensure that I wouldn’t have to deal with anyone else’s nonsense: I opted to pay a little extra for a single. No roommates, no suite mates, no late night visitors, no parties. Anything that could be detrimental to my studies was a no-go for me.

When I was a senior, after years of working in bakeries, bagel shops and cafes, I finally saved up enough money for my own 1-bedroom apartment, complete with a reasonable-sized kitchen with a spacious stove top. Sure, the rest of the apartment was pretty cramped, but I wasn’t planning on spending any time there anyway. I threw out any books I had acquired over time in favor of nothing but family meal recipe books. I knew my space was temporary, so I kept decor to the basics and instead splurged on kitchen appliances and cleaning tools. Who needs a carpet or curtains when I could have the perfect rust-proof polishes for my spoons? I tossed out old Disney movies in favor of cooking DVDs. Sorry, Ariel, Lidia Bastianich was my new idea of a heroine. I worked graveyard shifts, early morning shifts, prix fixe brunches and dinner rushes at a variety of hoighty-toighty restaurants all within the vicinity of my school. I slept about three hours a day and my zzzz’s were filled with dreams of the food groups. Despite my hectic schedule, my studies never took a backseat and my grades never slipped. Some might say I was a Wonder Woman, if I ever stuck around anyone in a social setting long enough to hear it.

Needless to say, I graduated at the top of my class with job opportunities nearly drowning me, dragging me down to the ocean floor and begging me to shake hands with the bottom-dwelling sea life who would one day grace a dish I created, coated in a creamy garlic butter sauce. The listings bombarded me: Management position available in NYC. Seafood head chef position open in DC. Entrepreneur looking for upscale cafe co-owner in Seattle. All of them were at my fingertips if I really wanted, and all of them were oh so glamorous. That in and of itself was the problem: they were glamorous. Sure, when it got down to the nitty gritty of the work that would be going on many would beg to differ, but still, you had to look and present glamour if you wanted to make it in the fast-paced world of the culinary elite. Sure, I was best in class, magna cum laude with a double BA in restaurant management and the culinary arts. Sure, I could bake a flambé the likes of which you’d never seen before. Sure, I had enough schmaltzy restaurant experience both in and out of the kitchen that most people don’t achieve before the reach the age of fifty. But those to me were all stepping stones, small ripples leading to the big kahuna. They were money makers, and good ones at that, but they weren’t ideal. No, I didn’t graduate with truffles placed on a pedestal, and I’d take corn beef hash over creme fraiche any day. I despised the thought of serving the fru-fru with a food budget higher than my rising student loan bills. I didn’t want to make tiny portioned meals of exclusive, exotic foods for people whose taste buds were marred by money. I wanted to serve the working man, the tired man, the hungry man. I wanted to run my very own run-of-the-mill diner, like the Sally’s I had grown up with and loved. And not only that, I wanted to literally serve the patrons, complete with pink dress and matching hat. That, to me, was glamour.

Think about an aspect of your life story and rewrite it, telling the tale from another angle or perspective. For example, if your family always considered you to be a difficult teenager, write about other interpretations of your behavior. Or if you’ve always been considered successful, write about the fear of failure that lurks beneath the facade. Find a way to reconstruct an aspect of your personal narrative that explores the complexity of who you are.

 

“She’s nice and all…but she’s really quiet.” That’s what they would write in the 5th grade slam book about me. If there were a slam book, that is. Those are the words that would float around in the theoretical slam book of life. I was in the double digits, dammit, and I didn’t even have a good slam against me. What would that say about me? Other girls had “Cool” and “Hot” and “Sporty” and other Spice Girl-alias like terms to describe them, along with a list of guys they’ve kissed during rousing parent-in-the-other-room-monitored games of spin the bottle played at family super bowl parties. I had never even been to a party before—my time instead being holed up in my room reading the Michelle Tanner novel series. I squealed with delight when I noticed that Mary Kate and/or Ashley donned a pink dress that I owned on the cover. In this particular issue, Michelle is bummed because all it said in her class’s slam book was that she was a good speller. She was in the double digits, dammit, and all her classmates could say about her was that she was a good speller?!  I think I’m a good speller too, but not enough for that to be my only quality but at least it’s descriptive! “Quiet” means nothing, and that pesky “nice” is outright insulting. How dare they think that about me?!  I’ll make my mark in that book of life one day, and that day begins today…

 

“Jamie buys all her clothes at the flea market,” Stephanie whispered behind my back. I looked down at my pea-green leggings and green striped sweater. I distinctly remember my mom purchasing those leggings in the clearance section at Kids R’ Us and the sweater I got as a gift for Christmas. My outfit was not only NOT purchased at a cheap flea market, but was much nicer than what she had on. In a Catholic school, dress down days came once in a blue moon, and you always wanted to make sure you wore your coolest, most in-style outfit you begged your mom to buy for you. Being a rather poor kid in a private school located in one of the richest towns in Westchester made that a little difficult, but I made do with what I had. Who was Stephanie to talk, anyway? Last year during the big children’s Easter mass I had on a beautiful Easter Parade-esque dress and bonnet from Lord & Taylor while she showed up in a tie-dye shirt and jeans and picked her nose for 40% of the mass. At least I knew when to dress up and how to do it in style.

 

“Yeah, she said all of your clothes are from there because your family’s too poor to go shopping anywhere else,” my friend Julia confirmed that what I heard was true. Anger coursed over my body. I thought of going over there and setting her straight and letting her know exactly where my outfit was from, and about the Abercrombie and Fitch shirt I purchased over the summer. (Sure, it was an irregular-sized A&F shirt from the flea market, but she didn’t have to know that.) Maybe a good portion of my clothes were from the flea market, but at least I had style. I gathered my thoughts and turned to Julia, “I should punch her in her stupid face!” I said, as I made a fist with my tiny, weak hand. Then the bell rang and break was over, and it was time to study vocabulary. The battle was soon forgotten when Stephanie would be last in line behind me during the spelling bee, rooting me on…  “She kept touching me, and made me nervous. That’s why we lost,” I’d explain to my friends later when I blanked during the last round. “She didn’t win either, so whatever.”

 

I realized that it would be hard for people to think of me any other way than “quiet,” but it didn’t matter, and “nice” wasn’t so bad after all. Maybe “buys all her clothes at the flea market” would be my description in the slam book of life, but at least that means I’m resourceful. And if anyone complemented my style and found out where my clothing came from, I could be a fashion trailblazer for the lower middle class. At least they couldn’t have me down as “a good speller,” maybe “kind-of good,” but that would be downright silly. I could rest easy knowing that I had once again had something in common with Michelle Tanner, and this time, I may have even had something better.