Monday, April 21, 2014

A Pause to Reflect...

Okay, this is the official "hitting the pause button" post. I am putting my chin-up challenge on hold for awhile. I am not giving up on it, because I still think I can do it. I'm just putting it to the side for awhile. Turns out that like an ogre or an onion or even a parfait; I have layers. Or at least my injuries have layers. My bashed big toe led to a change in my gait that led to a misalignment of my knees that aggravated them that led to the discovery of arthritis and the fact that my patellas are tracking way laterally that led to physical therapy that led to developing other muscles to take the strain off of the knee and realignment of those pesky wandering patellas that led to discovery that my hips tend to wander and my IT band is taking a beating and that my back is locked in my lower lumbar which is leading to some nerve disconnect with the line that innervates the knees which is...

See? Layers...

Anyway, what this all means is that right now my focus is on getting everything working together the way it should be. Then I will come back around to adding extra challenges. Because let me tell you right now this is all challenging enough. And humbling. I am not even using the word wrong seriously humbling. I am doing PT and using super light weights. Which is bad enough. But light weights in areas where I normally kick ass. I have strong legs. But right now I am doing hamstring curls with 20 pounds. Because I have to think so hard about keeping my leg turned just the right way, and my speed just the right pace and the range just exactly so that I am exhausted just from the first few reps! Add to that because I am turned just so and going at just that speed it's calling in other muscles. I can't cheat. I can't compensate. I have to do it right. And right is working muscles that aren't used to it. And it's hard. (little bit of a whine there, sorry)

My first PT session my therapist said I had weak abdominal muscles. Excuse me? I do not. Push on them! Feel that? Strong! Well okay they might have a little layer of soft over them, but they have always been strong. Childhood illness sometimes has its benefits...Anyway, I never get told I have weak abdominals. Then as we would work and she would press on my abs while I did exercises she came around to agreeing with me. Last session she said, your upper abs are really strong and your lower abs are really strong. Now we just need to figure out how to get them to talk to each other. My abs are like congress...dysfunctional.

And that has sort of been the theme of most sessions. Basically, you're doing it wrong. Walking? Nope. Don't swing your hips. Lat pull downs? Tuck that pelvis and pull from your pinkies or you will bring in the wrong muscles. Leg lifts, presses, calf raises, you name it, I've compensated. So now I start over. And until I get it all lined up right I've got a full plate so pause on the chin ups. Though I have to believe that once I have everything working in tandem that will actually be easier than trying to bully my way through with other muscles.

Which is so deep and meaningful on a LIFE level that every work out session ends up being an in my head therapy session. How many times in life do we just compensate instead of doing it right? How often do we just bull our way through a problem instead of figuring out exactly what the source of the problem is and fixing it? It's easier to just shift our focus away from the issue than it is to fix it right? Admitting we are doing it wrong, especially when it's something basic like, oh walking for instance, is really humbling. You feel a bit like an idiot. I know there have been times in my life where I've had to stop, go back to the beginning and start over again. And it always sucks. But I'm learning. Always learning. It's the things we don't want to look at that often need our attention. But it's the things we have stopped looking at for so long we don't even realize we aren't looking any more that can wreck us.

Which is really hard right? Once we've figured out how to work around things, how to not pay attention to the things that aren't working, how do you go back and notice? How do you see what you are using to compensate? Especially if you have been compensating very well. Like with my knees, if I hadn't hurt my foot I would have never (or at least not for a longer time period anyway) noticed that my knees were wearing away. So how do you even tell what you are avoiding and what you are over using? Well, for me, I do have the advantage of being a noted expert in omphaloskepsis. So now I just have to look at what I've been studiously avoiding looking at. Ummm....well..

So here is my new challenge. To stop and really look at everything again. To see what is and isn't working. To figure out what I've bulled my way past or am continuing to bull my way through. To go back and start over if I have to. And also, and this is really important, to give myself credit for the things that are good. The things I have been paying attention to and the times when I have gone back to the beginning to start over. And even the things I am part way there on. I have strong abs (for instance) this is a good thing. They can be better, I can figure out how to get them working in tandem, but they are there. Waiting and ready to work, strong. I am writing more (to bring in the flip of this challenge, it's physical and mental this time around) and I am brimming with ideas, so that's working, I still haven't gone back in to edit anything I wrote in November so that isn't. But at least I am recognizing there is an issue there. So I'm confident I will figure that out soon.

Now if I could just figure out how to walk...

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Time to go camping!

I have gotten a lot of brochures and emails and catalogs about summer camps recently. When these come I am always a little torn. First off I am super glad that I don't have to figure out the maze and puzzle of piecing together the patchwork quilt of options to keep C busy for a summer. Seriously, it took spreadsheets and calendars and much back and forth to get it all worked out. How many OMSI camps could we fit in? How many Tualatin Hills camps sounded interesting? Have you already done Lego Builders? Do you want to do it again? Is there a discount if I sign you up for more than one camp at a time? Just exactly how much is this summer going to cost us anyway?

Then there is the part of me that is a little nostalgic for the years of camps as well. It was always pretty cool to hear about all of the things he did. Almost all of the camps would have at least one field trip day. He's seen more of Oregon and Washington than we have because of all the outdoor camps. And getting that chance to talk to him about where he went and what he saw was always fun.

And then there is this other part of me. The part that wonders how I can get in on this action. Now I don't want to volunteer at a camp, because other people's kids...

But to have a week of field trips? Like the best OMSI camps? The ones that were just a different day trip every day? Sign me up! Show up, get on the bus, go to some cool place, learn about it on the way, talk about it on the way back? Cool beans. Sort of the same thing as "New thing every weekend" pressed in to a week, but with a driver and someone else making the plan. And getting to go during the week when it's a little less crowded.

Well except for the bus loads of  other people's kids from their own summer camps...hmmm...maybe I need to fine tune my plans.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Watermelon kisses...

She hated these interviews. Usually the reporter came in expecting a half hour filled with witty comebacks and wry observations about life. And she couldn't help but feel that she had disappointed them by the time they left. She wasn't nearly as clever or confident as Alyssa, the character she played on Jackson High. She wasn't really good at the promotions part at all but it was still a part of her job. She knew it. She knew when she took the part that there would be publicity that needed to be done. And the more successful the show, the better for everyone. And the way to make the show successful was to get people to talk about it, and its unlikely star. That would be her. Almost always described as unlikely.

"Ms. Lewiston, nice to meet you. I'm Kendra Collinsworth from Up Notes. Nice to meet you. Oh shoot, I said that twice. I'm sorry. I'm really nervous. This is my first interview with a major star, they normally only let me handle the extras. And I'm a huge fan of yours and of the show. And... So...and I'm talking too much. Let me start again. Ms. Lewiston, I'm Kendra Collinsworth from Up Notes, nice to meet you."

Abby laughed. Kendra was not what she expected. Unlikely star meet unlikely reporter. This might work out just fine after all. "Please call me Abby. And relax. Nothing to be nervous about here." Abby liked her. Liked the fast talking. No matter what when she met someone who talked fast and without a filter her first thought was that she would like them.

Kendra took a deep breath and composed herself. "Up Notes is doing a whole series on Jackson High and the cultural phenomenon it's become. I was hoping to get not only your take on the character you play, but on the show in general. When we spoke with Allan Peterson, writer and director of Jackson High, Sorry, I have to do that to make sure I remember to put it in my story notes when I transcribe later, sorry, again." Another nervous smile, "When we spoke with Allan Peterson he said that your audition made him realize he was writing the wrong show. Did you plan that going in?"

Abby laughed, "Did I plan on Allan Peterson completely blowing up his television show and rewriting it because of my audition? No. I'm flattered that he gives me so much credit, but I think he was already realizing that the show he really wanted to write was not what he had started with. Look at his past body of work. The man is really a genius."

Kendra slid a photo out from between the pages of her notebook, "Your mother gave Allan this picture, were you aware?"

Abby took the photo. It was the Fourth of July. The sweet spot of summer. Far enough away from school on either end that you could pretend life would always be lazy hot days spent doing what ever sounded like fun when you woke up. Swimming in the pool or down at the lake. Riding your bike as far as you could as fast as you could. Maybe just grabbing a book and a coke and then sitting under the big elm tree and reading away the afternoon.

Looking at the picture she had to pause and think how old she would have been. Thirteen right? It had to have been thirteen. About to start high school. She looked again. There was the familiar pose. Always the right side turned to the camera. The shy smile. The uncertainty in her eyes. This was before the next four years broke her down and the four after that built her back up.

Before college where her first roommate (and soon to be best friend) told her that she needed to stop trying so hard to fit in. Everyone wanted to be different, unique, why was she fighting so hard to be wallpaper? Before the boyfriend (and the ones that followed) who taught her that she was more than she gave herself credit for. Before she discovered the stage. Acting, makeup, transformation. Before the starring role on a popular television show that found girls pretending to be her with their own makeup kits.

This was before that. When life was simple. But not easy. People always make the mistake of thinking simple is the same as easy. And was he there? In the shot? Maybe. That might be his arm. This would have been right before. The moment life changed. How many people have a picture of a moment before a moment? So dramatic. But at 13 everything was dramatic wasn't it?

"I wasn't aware that he had this shot, no. But it doesn't surprise me that my mother gave it to him. She always thought it was a beautiful picture."

"He said this was just before you entered high school yourself. Do you feel as though your experience was similar to Alyssa's?"

And this is the point in the interview where she could lie or tell the truth. She took another look at the photo.


"Smile! Come one, give me a real smile!" She could hear her mother's voice in her memory...

"Mom...this is my real smile!"

Her mother took the picture and then she was free to go. Grabbing a slice of ice cold watermelon she turned and saw him for the first time. The new boy. The family that had just moved in to Natalie's neighborhood. Nat had spent hours telling her all about him on the phone. He was gorgeous. He had the bluest eyes. His hair was perfect. He was tall without being gangling. Nat had gone on and and on and Abby had listened patiently. Nat had a tendency toward boy crazy. But this time she had been right. He was gorgeous. Nat was going to be sick that she had missed the picnic. Abby automatically turned so he could only see her in profile. She didn't even consciously do it anymore. Just years of habit.

He was walking toward her. Oh my gosh, was he going to talk to her? Was he smiling at her? Oh wait, no, it wasn't her, it was the watermelon. "I love watermelon! It's my favorite. Is it cold? I only like it cold. Okay, no that's not true. I will eat it warm as well. But it's best when it's cold. Like almost frozen. That's the best. So cold your teeth hurt and it's hard to swallow. That shouldn't be good right? That should make it bad, but that's the best." The wall of words rushed at her. She had never met anyone who talked so fast before.

"Oh hey, sorry, I'm Paul. I tend to talk a lot. My mom and dad are constantly telling me to be quiet but when they aren't around I sort of forget to slow down and let other people in to the conversation. It's a bad habit, and I'm doing it again. Anyway, Paul. Nice to meet you." And with that he held out a slightly sticky watermelon juice covered hand to Abby.

"Abby. Nice to meet you as well. And yes, it's cold. Yes, it's best that way. And yes, you talk a lot."

As she said it she thought it probably sounded rude. But he threw his head back and laughed so loudly and so genuinely that she knew it would be okay. And that was the start of the rest of the summer. That's how she thought of it for the next few years. The time before, the start, the rest of the summer and then the after. So dramatic.

As they shook hands he looked at her squarely for the first time. "Port wine?" He said pointing at her neck.

Her hand automatically shot up to try and cover the spot, "Yeah, how did you know? Most people don't know what they are called." She tried not to blush as he stared at her birthmark.

"I knew a kid in kindergarten who had one. But his was on his face. And it was kind of puffy. Not like yours, yours looks really smooth. How far does that go?" As soon as he asked he blushed a deep scarlet, realizing the question was a little more personal that he had intended.

Abby actually liked that he asked. Most people either pretended that they didn't see it at all or made fun of her behind her back. She lowered her hand from her neck and pointed to a spot on her waist almost to her hip. "To here. It's pretty big."

And it was. The mark started as a small curl right under her left ear and worked its way down her neck to her side and across her rib cage ending with a matching curl on her waist. Wider in the middle. She thought it looked like someone had thrown a bucket of paint her way. Most of it hitting her side with the splash carrying up and down her body.

Paul nodded, "I'm going to go down by the lake to eat this. I like the water. It's been my favorite part of moving here so far. We have a pool and then there is the lake and the river and it seems like there are streams every where too. Did you want to come with? You could tell me about the town. What school is like. I know, nobody wants to talk about school during the summer, but I don't really know anyone. I mean there's this one girl who lives down the street from me, but she never talks, just stares a lot. And I really am a little worried about how different it's going to be here. But don't tell anyone that because I am trying to act cool like it doesn't bother me."

Abby just nodded and walked along with Paul. Listening as he talked. Answering a question or two when he would remember to slow down enough to let her in. Abby told him about the kids he would be meeting. The school they would be going to. Paul played basketball and football. He said he was just okay at both but Abby could tell by watching him that he was probably better than okay. He was already past that awkward stage most of the boys had hit in 8th grade. All knees and elbows.

Later that evening they sat together and watched the fireworks. More watermelon in hand. He wasn't kidding when he said he loved it. Abby guessed that he had eaten an entire melon by himself that day. When the big finale came and the sky exploded into star-bursts of color he leaned over and kissed her. She was stunned. Nobody had ever kissed her before. She put her hand to her lips in surprise as he smiled. "See you soon, Abby. It was nice to meet you."

She could only nod. Sucking her bottom lip in to her mouth she could taste the sweetness of watermelon. She smiled. Happy from the top of her head to her toes. She was pretty sure this had been the best day of her life so far. The new boy that Nat had gone on an on about liked her. Her. Abby. She couldn't wait for Nat to get back from visiting her grandparents so she could tell her.


"Was I like Alyssa? No. I'm afraid not. I wish I had been. But I didn't have the talented writers that Alyssa has. And I didn't have the confidence. Here, look at this picture, see how I am standing? I always hid the left side from cameras. And from people. I wasn't even aware I was doing it. But years of having people stare had taught me to protect myself."

"Even in a small town? I had assumed it would be easier growing up in a small town?"

"I didn't have to keep explaining what a port wine birthmark was, that's about it. I don't want to give you the wrong impression either, not everyone stared or made mean remarks. There were great people, there are always great people. Which is what I think Allan focuses on in Jackson High."


The rest of the summer was spent with Paul. And Nat. But mostly Paul. When she found out he had never gone fishing she taught him how. She showed him where to get the best burger in town. Whose yards you could cut through when you were running late and which ones you couldn't. And she listened. He never slowed down. Always talking. She knew more about him than she did just about anyone else in her life. And she liked that. And every night he would kiss her goodbye. The sweet simple kisses that only happen with first kisses. No expectation of more. Or different. Just a kiss. And she loved them.

In late August Paul started football practice. The coach started open practice two weeks before school began and if he wanted to make the team he needed to be at those practice sessions. Abby had missed seeing him during the day but he would come to her house right after practice was over and tell her all about it. They would eat watermelon and spit the seeds in the yard. Seeing who could get the most distance. And he would talk. Telling her who was the fastest, who was the strongest, who he thought would make the team and who he was afraid would get cut. He was making friends and ready for the school year to start. And for the first time in a long time so was Abby. This year was all about new beginnings.

When she and Nat were out shopping for back to school supplies she saw a Lip Smackers lip balm that was watermelon flavored. She smiled and bought it thinking it would be a fun surprise for Paul. Watermelon flavored kisses.

And then...

Then there was the after.


"Do you remember the audition? I know it was originally for a small part so I wonder if you were aware that something special had happened?"

"I had gone on exactly five auditions for TV roles. I had a few commercials. I had done one off off Broadway play and now I was reading for Allan Peterson's new project. Yes, I remember."


She had gone in to read for a small part, she was supposed to play the outcast. The girl that was teased just because she looked different. It was going to be a "very special episode" of some new high school drama. Yes, she was 24 at the time and would be playing a teenager but the rumored male lead was in his thirties so she thought she could pull it off. She had made the choice to do the audition without covering her birthmark. You used what you had to get the edge right?

Her agent had called her the next day. "They couldn't believe how real you were. How raw. They are rewriting the entire show, they want you as a lead. And they want your character to have your birthmark." She had been stunned. Instead of  a "very special episode" about how you should treat people who look differently than you do, she was one of the leads. And it wasn't about her birthmark, not really, they just let her play a teenager. Who had a birthmark. Who didn't let it define her. When it was addressed in the show, and it was, it was all real. Sometimes her character liked that she looked different. Sometimes she wished it would just go away. The episode where she went to the dermatologist to see about having it lightened generated so much fan mail against it that the network suggested they give her another one!


"What do you think defines the show more than anything else?"

"I think it's that Allan hasn't forgotten what it was really like to be a teenager. Yes, he writes snappy dialog, and yes, we are all very well adjusted. But there is that thread of real he weaves through. I think that defines the show as much as anything else. He shares stories that we can all relate to. And he lets us, the actors, play them in a, I'm searching for the right words here, see? I need him to write my dialog all the time! He lets us play them in a very real way. It started with that first audition and has carried through the whole show for me.

And he does it with all the characters. There are no strict stereo-types in Allan's shows. He lets us remember that the popular jock might be hiding who he really is just to seem cool. Or the brainy girl is really worried that she won't be good enough once she gets to college and is a small fish in a big pond. We all have insecurities, in a way Alyssa is lucky because hers is out in the open. When you see her, or me, you know what we have been self conscious about. It's right there."

When she did the audition and the director told her to not hold back, to dig deep she did. Back to the after. Where she could still find the tender part of her that never completely healed.

It had started with over hearing a few of the more popular girls in the bathroom on that first day back after summer vacation, "Why is he hanging around with her? Have you seen the shirt she is wearing today? I would wear nothing but turtlenecks if I had that thing on me."

"Oh my God...I wouldn't even leave the house! He can do so much better. He will figure it out."

Then meeting Paul at her locker later. He looked at her, then at her neck. Had he ever done that before? Since the first day? Had he really just stared at her neck? She could see the guys from the team standing down the hallway. Poking at each other. Laughing while they looked their way. "Umm, hey, I'm going to be late at practice so I can't walk you home." Then looking back down, a faint blush on his cheeks.

"Oh that's fine. You can come by after you're done. I bet you have a ton to tell me. I think Mom even has a watermelon in the fridge."

Paul had looked up at her then. His impossibly blue eyes staring at her. "Yeah, I don't think so. I don't really have anything to say."

And that was that.


"When the show became such a big hit did you hear from anyone you used to go to school with? Did they see themselves in the show?"

"Funny enough, I did hear from a couple of girls who were in my class. I wouldn't say we had been friends but they were sure we had been when they asked me to introduce them to Ric."

"Ric would be Ricardo Altaveres, who plays your love interest on the show?"

"Yes, that Ric. But no, other than my friend Nat I didn't really have a lot of people I was close to in high school. Unlike Alyssa I really didn't come in to my own until college. I was pretty shy and reserved until then."

She thought about telling Kendra she had almost written a letter to a certain boy thanking him. After all it was because of him that she got the part. That she was able to impress the director during her audition enough to have him reconsider the entire show he was working on.

When the audition started and he told her to dig deep she had closed her eyes for a moment. Then reopened them seeing not the brown eyes of her audition partner but the deep blue of Paul's. And then the tears started to flow. There is no pain like the first heart break.


When the article came out Kendra hadn't described her as the "unlikely star" of the new teen drama she had called her the "very together" star of Jackson High. The woman you imagine Alyssa will grow up to be. Abby had smiled at that. Knowing it wasn't quite true. Alyssa wouldn't have hidden in the bathroom until those girls left, she would have marched right up to them and had something clever to say. Though Abby had had the pleasure of channeling Alyssa and telling those girls that she was really sorry but she didn't really remember them and wouldn't feel comfortable introducing strangers to Ric. And Alyssa would have walked right past Paul to the starting quarterback on the varsity team. But that just wasn't Abby, not then. Not now.

She smiled and put her fingers to her lips. Remembering again the taste of sweet watermelon kisses given by a boy with impossibly blue eyes. Everything was so dramatic at thirteen.

You probably noticed nothing was in italics or in bold for this story. It wasn't a line prompt this time but an emotive prompt. That was my take on "the color of pain and the taste of happiness."

Want to see what Dana came up with? Read Bitterness, on the Rocks.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

When you dream...what do you dream about?

When I was growing up I shared a room with my sister. For quite a few years we shared a double bed as well. It wasn't until I was in middle school that we switched out to bunk beds. I think it was me sleeping on the floor that finally got my parents to realize that maybe my own bed would be a nice thing.

So anyway last night I had a dream that I was back in New Mexico clearing furniture and junk out of my old bedroom. The double bed was back, not the bunk beds. And it was the trailer, not the house my family lives in now. Which that makes sense (as much as anything in a dream makes sense) the trailer was my home, the place they live now never was. So anyway, the double bed gets picked up and moved out and there is a ton of junk under the bed. There is a picture somewhere from when Susan and I were younger, we were in the apartment on Eubank still, I think, and it's like a sitcom. The dividing line down the middle of the room. One side covered in layers and layers of junk and the other neat and tidy. You can guess which was my side. (hint, as soon as I am done writing this I'll be cleaning house)

So anyway, the bed is lifted out and there is junk and dust and obviously years of stuff that have been lost under the bed. And in among all of that is the desiccated remains of the biggest spider I have ever seen. Think Australia big. And it was orange. And had an extra section to its body. And I thought, "I knew it! This is what I heard before!" And I flashed back to trying to sleep and hearing a giant something or other scrambling under the bed. And I would catch fleeting shadows of it climbing the walls. This is obviously what that was. I wasn't crazy.

Or at least in the dream. Because I really had heard the thing scrambling and keeping me from sleep, not just last night. I had a nightmare around two weeks ago where I was back in New Mexico trying to get to sleep and couldn't because there was a thing in the room. As my eyes would close I would just get a glimpse of it running along the wall. I could hear it under the bed. Click clacking as it walked. In the dream I knew it was a giant spider but I could never see it directly. And I was not going to go looking for it under the bed.

But there it was last night. Making a special guest starring appearance in another dream. This time dead, dried out and starting to split in two. I knew I needed to pick it up and clean the area but didn't want to touch the body. Because just as much as I knew it was a spider in the first dream, just as much as the second dream was tied to the first, I knew that if I moved that body there were eggs under it that would hatch.

I'm not looking forward to the third dream....

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

That's so nice...

"Hey! Where's Adonis?" Carl pushed a chair out for Helene with his foot.

Helene smiled, "He has a name you know. And he's not coming."

"He's not coming? Why not?" Jules asked.

Gary arrived carrying drinks, "Who isn't coming? Hey, Helene, where's Adonis?"

"That's not his name. Stop calling him that. His name is Shane and he's not coming."

Gary settled in, "Why not? Is there a ridiculously good looking people convention in town?"

"Very funny. If you all must know, we broke up."

Jules slapped the table, "Ha! I knew it! I knew he was a jerk!"

Carl smirked at Jules, "Please, you liked him just fine. Or at least you liked looking at him."

"Jealous much? And anyway, it's totally true I told Helene the first time I met him to watch out for him, didn't I?"

"Yes, you did."

"But you didn't take me seriously."

"Because your whole reason for not liking him was that he was too good looking. You can't just not like people who are good looking just because they are good looking. That's shallow."

"Reverse looksism?" Carl asked.

"Not even reverse, it's just flat out looksism. If the only thing you judge someone by is their appearance it's looksism."

"Doesn't matter, I was right. Just like Andrew. Andrew was tall, dark and handsome. I hated him. Nobody believed me when I told them that it wouldn't last between you two. But I was right."

"That was middle school! No relationship is going to last in middle school! We're lucky we lasted until lunch let alone a few weeks."

"Whatever. And it wasn't just that Shane was too good looking, he was also too nice. Nobody is really that nice."

Carl laughed, "Oh well, that makes perfect sense then. Good looking and nice? I can't believe you ever dated the jerk at all! Next thing you're going to tell me is that he was filthy rich as well."

Jules made a face at Carl, "Ha, ha, very funny. But I was still right. Why did he dump you?"

"Yeah, what happened?" Carl leaned in ready for the gossip.

Gary pushed a drink Helene's way, "Here, drink up and tell us all about it. When did he tell you?"

"Nice of you all to assume he dumped me. Not that it's really any of your business but I broke up with him."

"What? Why? Why would you dump someone as nice and good looking as Shane?"

"Jules! You just told me you didn't like him!"

"Well, yeah, I mean, I didn't trust him but he was awfully good looking."

Helene took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "There just isn't any way to say this without sounding bad."

"Oh that's okay, we like it when you're bad." Gary smiled.

Helene gave a small laugh, "Okay. Well. He just wasn't very smart."

Gary gave Helene a look of mock concern, "He wasn't very smart? This is a problem now? Sorry, Carl, you are out of the group." Carl leaned back in his chair and scratched the side of his head flipping Gary the bird as he did so.

"It wasn't just that he wasn't very smart. Or not as smart as others. It was that he was, well he was just dumb as a post."

The group all started laughing, "Oh come on now, it couldn't have been that bad or we would have noticed."

"You think so, Carl? How many long conversations did you have with him? We dated for three months, how often did you just sit and chat?"

"We're guys, we don't sit and chat. We bust each other's balls."

"And? How often did he do that with you?"

"Well, umm..hmmm...Okay. But that's not necessarily because he was dumb. He just was too nice to really get in there and mix it up."

"No, there is nice because you are choosing to be and nice because you just can't be any other way. Because you can't keep up with the conversation. He was nodding and smiling because he didn't get that you were teasing him. He really did think that you were concerned with his hair products. He asked me if he should put together a list for you since you seemed like you were really interested."

Gary started laughing, "He wasn't wrong. Carl really could use all the help he can get."

"I tried to not let it bother me for as long as I could. He was just so sweet and so nice and yes, so good looking that I really made every excuse. When he didn't know that Monet was an artist and not the French way of saying money, I laughed thinking it was a joke. But no, he really thought people were going to the museum and looking at francs. Which when I told him the French used euros now instead of francs he said that was too bad and wished they had kept using a man's name like they did before. And like we do. You know. Bill."

Jules stifled a giggled.

"Oh well, he didn't know art, or money, that's not..." Helene silenced Gary with a look.

"You remember the other night when Bruce and his new girl were here?"

"Oh yeah, the redhead, holy shit, she was..." Carl looked around, "Not the point. Okay, yeah, go on."

"Okay, so we are all kidding around talking about The Walking Dead, which, by the way, Shane doesn't watch because it's too scary so he missed every joke reference you all made to Shane from the show and himself. So okay, we are talking about zombies and the apocalypse and Bruce starts in about the squirrels."

The table all laughed, "The ninja squirrels?"

"No, Jules, they aren't ninjas, they are hyper intelligent mutants." Carl corrected her.

"Oh, that's right! They could be ninjas if they wanted to, but they aren't limited to just being ninjas. Because you know, hyper intelligent mutants."

"Right, so anyway, we are driving home and Shane gets really quiet. I ask him what's wrong and he says he's really worried about Bruce. And suddenly I'm concerned thinking maybe I missed something because Shane is so nice I'm thinking maybe he picked up on something going on with Bruce that I missed. And then he tells me...." Helene paused and closed her eyes for a second then took a deep breath. "And then he tells me, I am worried that the squirrels will know he's on to them."

Loud laughter filled the bar. "Oh my god, that's hilarious!"

"No, it's not hilarious, because he wasn't joking. He really believed that Bruce has mutant hyper intelligent wannabe ninja squirrels living in the park across from his house!"

More laughter.  "Oh gosh, wait..." Jules tried to catch her breath, "Wait, it's not nice to laugh but..."

"Fuck that, it could be dangerous to try and hold this in." Carl and Gary both started again.

"So you see? And it was hard, you guys."

"Because he is so nice?"

"No," Helene made a pained expression, "Because I had to keep finding ways of saying it. He thought when I said that I didn't think I could see him anymore I was going blind..."

And Dana's Imaginary Friends

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Sign on the dotted line....

His house was filled with art deco paintings and smelled faintly of tobacco. It made me wish I were anywhere else, not sitting in that exquisite chair, searching for something to say. How do you start a conversation that you've been forced in to having? I honestly thought I would never step foot in this house again. I can already feel my shoulders tensing and we haven't even begun yet.

How much time do I have before he's through saying goodbye to young me? I wonder if she got the same jolt of recognition from seeing my face that I did from hers? Maybe it's easier to recognize your younger self than it is your older version. I hope so. I hope she's just feeling the sting of jealousy right now and not the rest. The knowing that she is one of many. Though maybe it will be a good thing for her. Once she realizes that he probably kept her here just long enough to make sure we would see each other. Will she recognize the subtle manipulation? Would I have? Probably not.

Breathe...just keep breathing. One more thing. Just one more thing from him and then you are free to walk out the door.

God I used to love this room. I felt smarter just sitting here. The paintings, the books, even that smell of pipe tobacco. Before I knew it was all part of his show. Everything in here is a prop. A way to manipulate those around him. Especially a particular type of student. The adoring ones. The girl next door looks with the you hung the moon attitude. God I was so naive. Ten years is a long time. Why does it feel like no time has passed? I swear I can feel myself regressing the longer I sit here. I'm pretty sure I was a capable 30 year old woman when I walked in that door, why do I feel like a helpless 20 something again?

One more thing. I just need one more thing. Okay, you can do this. You still know how to talk to him. How to keep half of the conversation in your head. You can do this.

"Are you comfortable? Can I get you something to drink?"

Nice sneak in behind me. Good touch. Get me off guard to start. "No, thank you, I really can't stay long."

"It was a lovely surprise to have you call to see me."

A surprise? You made sure I had to come here. "I just thought it might be easier for me to stop by with the papers this time."

"Yes, yes, I'm not sure how I missed the last page. But we will get it set to right this time. Did you get my recommendation for the research position?"

The one I didn't ask for? The one I don't want? The one I thanked you for two years ago when you did it? "Yes, I did. Thank you again for thinking of me."

"I'm not sure why you didn't pursue that more?"

"I'm actually quite content in my position with the library." Watch your tone. You don't want to sound argumentative.

"Ah, yes, contentment. I'm not sure why you would settle for content. You know of all of my proteges you really were the most special."

Smile, just smile.

"What is that look?"

Shit, well okay, that wasn't a smile so much as a pained expression. "I just don't think that sounded as flattering out loud as you intended."

"What do you mean? You are gifted. Intelligent. Curious. Settling for content just seems a waste. How can that not be flattering?"

"You're right. Thank you again for thinking of me for the position." Let's see it's not flattering because it implies that there were many before me and many to follow. Even though I am fully aware I was one of many it's nice to pretend.

And why wouldn't I want it? A position at your university? Working for your colleague? That you got for me? Where you could keep tabs on me at all times? Hmmm...I'm not sure why that doesn't sound appealing to me.

"So where were we? One more page to sign?"

"Yes, just the last page. You signed and initialed the others, just missed that final space."

"I must have gotten distracted. You know how many time pressures I am under. I am just surprised my lawyer missed it as well."

Did you think I wouldn't expect you to have a lawyer review this? If you are trying to shock me, try harder. And please, you know as well as I do that you told him you weren't signing the last page and just to send it as it was. "Yes, he must have not been watching close enough at the time."

Pick up the pen. Go on, pick up the pen. Yes! And put it back down. Crap. Deep breath. Just a little longer.

"Does he know who I am?"

Wow. Okay, I wasn't expecting this one. Have you changed? "Yes, of course."

"Is it intimidating for him?"

What? "I'm not sure I understand what you are asking?"

"I mean, it cannot be easy. You meet what you think is just some local librarian and then discover that their last significant other was me? It just seems like those might be big shoes to fill, so to speak."

Oh, okay, no you haven't changed at all. "Well he understands that he can only be who he is and that to think about things that cannot be changed would be foolish."

"So, yes, a bit intimidating I think."

Just give him what he wants so you can leave. "Maybe. Could you blame him?"

Ego soothed and pen up and signed. "No I would guess if I were he and he me I would feel the same way. There you go. Signed."

"Thank you." Now, do I look through all of the pages while I am sitting here or wait and see what he's done after I leave? Look. You know you have to look.

"I can assure you that everything is final now."

"Yes, I'm sure it is. I just want to double check that I didn't miss anything so I don't waste any more of your time with this. I know how busy you are this time of year."

"Well, all times of the year."

"Yes, of course, all times of the year." Smile and look. And yes, it's all here. Signed, initialed, dated and done. "Thank you so much for taking the time to see me to sign this. I appreciate your help."

Now I just need to make my legs work again. Stand up and walk to the door. I'm done. I'm really really done. One last look around. "I can see myself out, no need to get up." My hand on the ornate door knob almost free. I remember the first time I was here. And now this will be the last. Do this one for you, don't walk out that door the helpless young girl he tries to make you, you walk out the confident woman you've become. After all he did help you down that path, even if he doesn't understand how. Stand up straight, head up, "August? Take care of yourself. Be well."

And outside. Deep breath. I did it. I took one last look at the brownstone and...

"Hey, how did it go?" A hand reaching out for mine.

"You waited this whole time?"

"Well of course I did. I knew it would be a rough ride for you. Though honestly, it took less time that I thought."

"Yeah, me too."

"Did he say anything?"

"He said a lot without saying much. As usual."

"Did he ask about ..."

"No, of course not. But he did ask about you."

"About me?"

"Yes. It threw me off, silly me, I thought he was asking about his son."

I saw the look in his eyes as soon as the words left my mouth. Oh shoot, that was the wrong thing to say wasn't it? Then the smile started across his face and I knew that it was all going to be okay. He took the papers from my hand, "Not his son. Not anymore. My son."

"Yes, your son. Our son. Let's go tell him we can make the adoption official in time for his birthday."

And Dana's prompted story. Suits, Cigars and Sonnets

And I'm going to warn you, bring a tissue.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

I can't believe you didn't notice that thing that I didn't notice either...

I've talked before about how I write. That before anything gets put on paper (on screen?) I've actually written and re-written the story in my head. I work out the main details. Get some plot points or dialog going. Re-work it all over and over until I think I have the bones of a story that I want to tell and then I write it all down. So for this week's prompt I was off and running with a story idea. Things fell in to place pretty quickly, the people, the story I wanted to tell, it was smooth like silk and then a little buzz started in the back of my head..."wait a minute, have you written this before?"

Oh crap. Is that why it was so smooth? Had I actually already written the end of this story before? I knew I hadn't written the beginning or the middle but the ending? It was seeming awfully familiar. So while I was focused on that issue I got an email from Dana, my partner in crime for this endeavor, seems she hadn't really noticed that this week's prompt is in first person. Which if you don't write first person is a bitch to switch to. So we chatted about it, joked around about stretching as a writer and I told her about my search for previously done endings.

Great news! I found the story that I was thinking about and though there is a similar theme, the ending is different. Good enough so now I can write with a clear conscience and ...

Oh holy shit the story I'd been writing in my head was third person. All the way through. Even with talking to Dana about it needing to be first person I was so focused on the end that I wasn't paying attention to the rest. Which really sounds like this is going to be a life lesson blog right? Too focused on the the ending to see what is right in front of you? Well, yeah, that would make a great blog but that's not this blog, this blog is about point of view.

Obviously you all know I write in first person all of the time. I'm doing it right's coming from inside the blog...but I rarely write fiction in first person. I told Dana (my genius friend who is also incredibly witty and way too modest to tell you all of this herself) yesterday that I so much prefer voice of god than first person. I want to move all of the pieces. I want to have control over how they all feel, what they all think, how they all talk. First person narrows your scope. It's all about one person. One character. Everything else becomes something that they interact with. It only comes in to play if they are there. Witnessing it. And even then it's completely limited to their own point of view.

Which is life. That's why my nonfiction is all first person. Because I don't have a choice. I can guess at what you are thinking, but I don't know. And my guess is going to be totally interpreted through my own life. Weltanschauung. Great word. It's means world perception. Everything you do, every belief you have, every interaction in every day is all framed by your own weltanschauung. And your weltanschauung is created through every belief you have, everything you do, every interaction in every day.  It is your experiences that make you, you.

Now I wrote not too long ago about how we are all more alike than we are different and how that's actually pretty comforting. But the flip side of that is that we are still different. In the fact that your life is yours and mine is mine. When I am not right in front of you I pretty much cease to exist for you. I mean, obviously I still exist, but you are only guessing at that point. You can imagine what I'm doing, who I'm talking to, what is happening, and you might even get really close to what is actually going on, but you aren't experiencing it. Because you aren't here. Because no matter how compassionate you are, no matter how concerned with the world's problems you are, no matter how much you like to imagine you are all about the greater good you really only have one point of view. Yours. That's it.

Which long way around, is why I write fiction. Because I am greedy. I want more than one. I want them all. I want to know not just what you are thinking but why. I want to know what you are doing when you aren't here, does it change? There is a country song that asks, "Who are you when I'm not looking?" Every parent knows that the mark of a well behaved child isn't how they act when you are there, but what they do when you aren't. What do they do when you aren't there watching?

In fiction I always get to watch. God, that sounds creepy. Let me try again. In fiction I get to make people do what I want. Oh wait, that's worse. Umm ... yeah ... anyway...

First person fiction is hard. That's my point.

So this week when you read my story and my genius friend Dana's story keep in mind that we really worked it out. We took our fiction worlds and narrowed them. Which is as hard to do as it is to take your real world and broaden it. But life is about stretching. That's where the growth comes in. Even when stretching means narrowing...