Baby Boom vs. 9 to 5

Don’t you hate it when something that was so beloved to you as a kid is ruined forever?  Maybe that’s a bit dramatic.  But it was sort of ruined.  Growing up, I loved the 1980’s film Baby Boom starring Diane Keaton, who is still one of my all time favorite actors.  I noticed it was on Netflix, and settled in to watch.  Watching films that I loved as a kid is wrapping myself in a blanket of softness and warmth. I smiled as the familiar 80’s soundtrack started, preparing myself to be lulled into a peaceful state of childlike contentment.  Then I started to get annoyed.

baby boom

Diane Keaton stars as a cold corporate executive, too busy to marry her long-time boyfriend or have children, who only cares about her career.  Then she inherits an absolutely adorable baby girl from her only relative, (!) suspend your disbelief for that one, miraculously discovers her maternal instinct, becomes all zen and peaceful and compassionate, moves to a farmhouse in Vermont, falls in love with the handsome small-town veterinarian, whom she will probably marry, and lives happily ever after. Ugh. Maybe this movie was considered groundbreaking in 1987, but today I couldn’t make it through 10 minutes. It is possible for a woman to be successful at work and not be a cold, withholding, rhymes with witch at the same time, a stereotype that is still perpetuated to this day.  As a married, childfree working woman, who isn’t sure when or if she’ll ever become a mom, this entire concept just rubs me the wrong way.  I have great relationships,  especially with my husband and extended family, including many nieces and nephews who adore me.  I’m not some soulless robot stereotype. I ended up switching over to 9 to 5, another childhood fave.  A screwball comedy featuring three women banding together to take down their sexist pig of a boss and getting well-deserved promotions in the long run?  That’s a story I can get behind.

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Get Happy – pt. 2

Assignment for Open University

  • Make a summary of what the character is like.
  • Show him or her through appearance.
  • Show him or her through a habitual or repeated action.
  • Finally, show him or her through a speech in a scene.

pitch-black-skies

Yesterday’s story from the other sister’s perspective. Amy’s feet were throbbing, but her shoes were killer.  She felt faint from the constricting bright blue bandage dress that seemed to be cutting off her source of oxygen.  Her hair fell in loose, auburn waves over her bare shoulders.  She was hyper aware of the men walking by, taking in the hard-earned, pert curves of her body as she perched on the bar stool.

Beauty was pain, and work.  Everything was work.  Nothing was fun and easy and natural.  There was no such thing as a natural beauty.  There was no such thing as love at first sight, or a perfect marriage.  In any so-called happy marriage, there was a woman who spent two hours in the gym six days a week, routinely skipped meals, spent an hour a day on hair and make up and had a dresser dedicated to nothing but lingerie.  Their husbands bragged on them to their friends; their friends envied them.  The ones with the wives who’d let themselves go after the babies and mortgages and 401Ks.

“Amy’s holding up,” she’d heard one of Steve’s friends whisper to him as she’d slowly walked up the stairs from the basement on Steve’s poker night.   She’d smiled secretly to herself. That’s why she spent an hour making her sister beautiful that afternoon.  If she’d left it up to her she’d have shown up in a pair of ripped jeans and a Nirvana tour t-shirt from 1993.  She made no effort and it was embarrassing.  Happiness was work too.  Just like beauty.  She’d found the man who would make her happy and she made him love her. Made him her husband.  It hadn’t been easy.

Steve was clearly out of her league from the beginning, she’d known that.  She was a lower middle-class townie with a state college degree, he was an Ivy League investment banker that just happened to be a friend of a friend of a friend that she’d met at a group hang out thing one of her friends had arranged.  But being married to Steve meant happiness.  So she reinvented herself into a woman he would marry.  And it’d worked, in six months flat.  Much quicker than any of her girlfriends would have guessed.

Her mother had never been happy.  She was too afraid.  Never asked for what she really wanted.   She’d settled for a man who adored her, but was beneath her.  Weak.  Unambitious.  They still lived in the same shabby starter house they’d bought right after Amy was born, the only empty-nesters in the neighborhood surrounded by singles and newlyweds with fat, cooing babies.  Her mom had told her what she really wanted when she was a kid.  Secret whispers laying side by side on her parents’ bed while her father was downstairs, watching some sporting event or game show, cheers erupting from far away.  She’d wanted a house on the lake with windows that faced east.  She would sit on the porch next to her husband with a cup of tea and watch the sun rise.  She wanted to write novels, she wanted to have more children, she wanted to go hiking in Europe, she wanted, she wanted, she wanted.  But they were just whispers.

She couldn’t stand to think of her mother in that sad house, watching the reflecting lights of the television in her husband’s blank face, a husband that she desperately wanted to love, thinking of trips untaken and the one page of the book saved on the computer upstairs that she knew she would never finish.  She loved her mother dearly, but she was lazy.  She wasn’t depressed, or defeated, she was just lazy.  She could finish her book, she was in good health, she could go hiking anywhere, her father would follow her wherever. It was easier to complain about the things she would never do than try.  That would never be Amy’s life.  And she was going to make sure that it didn’t happen to Sara either.

Amy wound a fat strand of hair and smiled as Sara approached.  She was stunning.  Much prettier than Amy when she was all dressed up, Amy was confident enough to admit.  It was such a rare treat to see her that way, a bubble of pride expanded in her chest.  Chet was a lucky guy.  And he was smart and ambitious and handsome, a great father to his son with his ex-wife.  Amy had always thought guys who’d been married before made the best husbands, contrary to popular belief.  They’d gotten that first disastrous marriage out of the way and were ready for the real thing.  But Amy was shocked that he was going to be so late for the date; it was the height of rudeness.   She wouldn’t let on to Sara.  Sara was too much like their mother.  Aimless, no plan, bouncing around wherever the wind blew her.  If she didn’t nudge her in the right direction every once and a while, she stood still. Sara greeted her and Steve with a hello that was a bit too chipper, refusing to remove her coat.  Maybe she was waiting for Chet to arrive before making the big reveal.  She knew the dress she was wearing underneath was stunning, but she was hiding, just like their mother.

When Sara found out Chet was running an hour late because he was at spin class, she laughed like it was the most ridiculous thing she’d ever heard (and it sort of was) deposited Amy’s $500 shoes on top of the bar and practically ran out the door, five inches shorter.  It was as though she’d been freed from some sort of oppression. Spending the evening with her sister and her brother-in-law was oppressive to her.  And that’s when Amy started to get angry.

She downed the rest of her wine, and without a word to Steve, she stormed out of the restaurant into the cold night after her, catching up with her on the corner.  She was so angry she didn’t register the cold or the fact that she’d left her coat inside until she was standing face to face with her sister, who was standing under a street lamp, waiting for the traffic light to change.  She’d already wiped off most of her makeup with a towelette, back to regular Sara.  Under the lights, she looked so young.  Her baby sister.  Despite her anger, she felt a wave of affection. Sara stared back at her, unintimidated, with a tiny spot of red still left on her otherwise bare lips.

“What do you want?” Sara demanded.  “Did you really want me to sit and wait an hour for that douche-bag?  Do you really think I’m that desperate?”

Amy shook her head, crossing her arms against the cold.  “I just wanted you to meet someone new…I mean….when have you even been in a relationship..?

Sara threw her arms in the air in frustration.  The light changed and the other pedestrians pushed against them as they made their way to the crosswalk. “You know nothing about my life.  You’re too busy trying to get me to become you.”

Amy tugged at her hair and flipped it behind her shoulders. “And what’s so wrong with that.  Having a happy marriage…starting a family?”

“Nothing, if you’re really happy.”

“And what’s that supposed to mean?”

Sara sighed. “Come on, Amy.  You and Steve and your whole fake Stepford Wife thing you have going on…that’s happiness?  Wearing designer shoes and going to dumb pretentious restaurants and talking about….investment portfolios and overpriced preschools or whatever with your ridiculous friends?  That’s what you call a life?”

Amy stumbled back, as though Sara had punched her. “It’s better than sitting in some crappy apartment with boxes and clothes and trash everywhere cause you’re too lazy to clean.  You’re 30 years old, Sara.  Grow up already.”  She maintained her angry stance, but she was losing steam.

Sara stepped closer to her, smiling, looking more at peace than she’d ever seen her.  “I love my life, Amy.  As hard as that may be for you to believe.  I don’t need your pity, or your set ups, or some pretend version of your life.  I’m actually happy.  I’m not pretending. And I think that makes you a little crazy.” The light changed again and Sara darted across the street, blending into the crowd of other pedestrians. Amy stayed on the street corner and watched her sister start to skip down the street away from her in her ballet flats like a little girl, until she couldn’t see her any longer.  Her heart began to slowly crack, and she wondered if she’d ever known anything at all.

Get Happy

Open University – Start writing fiction – 1.3 Sources of characters Assignment:  Imagine a character very like you but give him or her a dramatic external alteration. You might make the character the opposite sex, for example, or make them significantly older or younger. You choose.Now write a brief character sketch in which you reveal the character’s appearance, their feelings about it, and their current circumstances. Use a third-person narrator (‘he’ or ‘she’).  This character is very much like me, but I changed her race and made her single instead of married.

shoes

Sara shimmied into the warm restaurant through the throngs of people, tightening her coat as girls her age around her shed their outerwear and slung them over tables and empty barstools. The restaurant smelled of garlic and olives and full-bodied wine.  Very American-Italian.  Not Italian-American, an important distinction.  A bad choice for a blind date.  Too loud, to aromatic, too warm, too trendy.  Trying too hard.  Just the kind of place Amy would pick. She wasn’t ready for what her sister would call “the big reveal.”  She’d let Amy make her up.  The works.  Dark-rimmed eyes that made the gold in her green eyes glow, pouty red lips, something called contouring, very popular with the reality star set, that made her already prominent alabaster cheekbones even more angular.  Her chocolate brown hair was shiny and blown out, hanging sleekly just beneath her shoulders and parted down the middle.  She’d let Amy talk her into heels.  Stilettos!  For goodness sakes.  She walked in them well enough, but they were so uncomfortable she didn’t understand why anyone would willingly stuff their poor helpless feet into them.  Besides women like her with pushy big sisters.  Sara felt like a contestant on one of those dumb reality dating shows. She normally wore flats.  With worn jeans and T-shirts with ironic sayings or tights with ballet slippers and 50’s A-line skirts with retro blouses, sometimes short floral dresses and flip flops in summer with chunky shoes and frayed denim jackets.  She didn’t wear stilettos.

“It’s just to get him interested,” Amy insisted as she added some blush to her already rouged cheek.  “You can go back to being you in a few months…it’s just how it works.”

She was meeting one of her brother-in-law’s childhood friends, a man unfortunately nicknamed Chet (could she marry a man who freely called himself that?) who was newly divorced.  Sara thought it was too soon for him to be dating again.

“Come on, Sara, just meet him,” Amy had insisted.  “Plus, I know you’re sick of being single.”

Am I? Sara had thought.  It was just like Amy.  If she wanted something, everyone else must have. Her life was of course the default master plan that everyone craved.  Amy would never understand that she liked solitary nights next to the open window in her small apartment, sipping good wine and reading a book, letting her feet rest against the window sill, feeling the delicious chill of the wind between her toes.  She liked eating in bed without anyone complaining about crumbs, watching whatever movie or show she wanted on television, not having to talk at all for hours if she didn’t feel like it, she liked waking up on a Saturday morning and doing whatever she wanted to do whenever she wanted to do it, she liked being able to call a girlfriend and plan a spontaneous adventure, no husbands with whom to smooth things over or babysitters to arrange.  She liked her life.  But this was Amy.  And for some reason, since the day Amy convinced her to go down the big slide on the playground at Chastain Park when she was two, even though her legs and arms were shaking and she’d nearly wet her pants, she hadn’t been able to say no to her.

Under her tightly wound coat she wore a dark red dress with a V-neck criss-cross neckline and an A-line skirt that swished as she walked.  It wasn’t really her, but she’d felt adventurous when she bought it a year ago.  It’d hung in her closet forever, waiting for the day it would make its debut.  She feared she’d wasted it.  She wanted to wear it on a date with a guy she’d already met and was maybe a little in love with.  Not full on, let’s run off and get married love, just fluttering in the belly, tingling in your toes, can’t stop smiling all day, goofy kind of love.  She would have worn it to a place where a live band played old standards like The Way You Look Tonight or Fly Away With Me, he’d twirl her on the floor as she pressed her cheek into the curve of his neck.  So the coat was staying on, for now anyway.

She sat down at the bar, where her sister and her husband were already sitting, nursing glasses of red wine.  Sara had insisted on driving her own car.  Amy’s husband Steve was exactly what Amy said she’d always wanted, like she’d ordered him from a catalog.   Tall and generically Ken-doll handsome, romantic but in a conservative, non-overt way, polite, gentlemanly, always stood when Amy arrived and when she left, opened car doors and always paid the tab, no matter how many of Amy’s friends have been invited along.  They went from just friends, to boyfriend and girlfriend, to engaged and then married in six months flat.  All according to plan.

Sara confused Steve.  She could tell.  She only politely laughed at his jokes, stayed only as long as needed at his and Amy’s soirees so as not to be considered rude, and turned down every invitation to travel with them until they stopped offering all together. Sara liked alone Amy, not Amy-and-Steve Amy. It was rare to catch alone Amy anymore.

“Hi guys,” Sara said in a fake-cheery tone.

“You look great!”  Amy responded with a wink as Steve nodded.  She flipped her dyed auburn hair over her shoulders and blinked her matching green eyes excitedly at Sara.  People always asked if they were twins until Amy had lightened her hair.  Sara didn’t know if that was an insult or not since Amy was three years older.   “Take off your coat!”  Amy demanded.

Sara stood, noticing expectant, appreciative glances from men around the room.  The big reveal. Her face flushed.  “I’m a little cold,” Sara lied, sitting back down. ”

You’re so beautiful, Sara,” Amy had told her earlier that day, hanging a gold locket around her neck.  “You shouldn’t hide it.”

Sara had stayed silent.  Beauty wasn’t something that you could hide.  It was always obvious to those who were smart enough to see it.  She wanted be with someone who saw her, actually saw her, or else, what was the point?

“So, a bit of a setback,” Amy started in that babyish, sing-songy voice she used when she was about to deliver bad news.  “Chet is running super late.  He got held up.”

Sara raised her newly manicured eyebrows.  “Really?”

Steve nodded again.  “He just texted.  He’s really sorry.  He’ll be here in about an hour he said.”

“Oh, is everything okay?”

Steve and Amy exchanged worried glances.

“Of course, he’s fine, just a class ran late.”

“What kind of class?  Is he going back to college or something?  That’s interesting.”

A long pause. “No, not that kind of class.  It’s Heart Cycle.”

“Heart Cycle?  What in the world is that?” Amy released an elongated sigh, emphasizing for Steve’s effect how hopeless Sara was.

“It’s a new cycle studio?  It just opened in Buckhead?” Steve looked at Sara expectantly as if these details were supposed to jog her memory.  “There’s a two-page long waiting list to get in and he finally got in last month, but his favorite instructor was late for class today.  He felt really bad, but he couldn’t miss it.”

Sara looked at the gravely serious expressions on Amy’s and Steve’s faces, glancing back and forth to see if they were joking.  Then threw her head back and laughed heartily, so loud that half the diners dropped their forks and looked up at her, probably thinking she was deranged.

“Saaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrraaaaaaa…” Amy whined.  “You should be glad that he takes care of himself.  A lot of guys don’t even care about that stuff.”

Her admonishment only made her laugh harder.  She slid from the bar stool, still chuckling, and pulled on her coat. “You aren’t even going to wait?  He’s a really nice guy.”  Steve got that confused look on his face he always did when Sara didn’t behave according to his or Amy’s expectations.

Sara shook her head.  “You tell him I hope he enjoyed his class.” Amy put her hand on Sara’s arm as she turned to leave.  Her face was flushed red with annoyance. “What are we supposed to tell him when he gets here and you’re gone?”

Sara paused.  Then bent down and took off Amy’s ridiculous shoes and placed them on the bar, probably breaking a few hundred health code laws.  Her feet breathed a sigh of relief as she slipped them into the pair of flats she’d dropped in her purse just in case.  “Tell him I was never really here anyway.” She smiled at their dumbfounded faces, then turned her back to them and headed out the door to do…whatever the heck she wanted.  But first she would stop home and hang up her dress in its usual spot –  in anticipation of a night that was worthy of its presence.

The Dark is Best for Hiding – pt 2

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These girls were my friends.  We were sitting in a circle on the ground.  It’s early.  The grass was cold.    I didn’t mind.  I liked to be outside.  It’s recess.  I liked recess too.  And I had five new friends.  I counted them in my head.  And that day was my fifth day there.  Five is a good number.  My new favorite number.  Half of ten, which used to be my favorite number. My friends were standing, so I stood too.  They all started to run.  I’m not a fast runner, but I tried to keep up with them.  They sat on the other side of the playground in a circle.  The circle is smaller this time.  I tried to fit, and I almost do.  I sat next to the girl with blue eyes.  Blue was my favorite color.  Her hair is black and in two pigtails, just like mine, but much longer, almost to her waist.  She was my favorite.  But I won’t say that out loud, just in my head, because I didn’t want to be rude.  She and the other girls were talking in quiet voices.  She looked at me and whispers again.  My mom said whispering was rude, it makes other people feel left out.  I wanted to know what they are saying, so I tried scooting closer. She turned and looks at me.  She spoke louder now, so I can hear.  She’s wasn’t being rude any more.  She told me they are going to play a game, hide and seek.  I smiled.

I watched the other kids out of my window at my house play that all the time.  They were always smiling and laughing and running.  Once a girl was hiding behind a tall bush in our backyard.  I saw her run behind our house.  I watched her hide.  No one found her for a long, long time.  I saw her smile.  She was happy that no one could find her.  She knew that meant she was good at the game.  A boy came looking for her.  He walked around and around our yard, looking and looking.  She jumped out and yelled “boo!”  He jumped and yelped, then they both laughed and laughed.  It looked so fun.  I wanted to play too.  But mom said I couldn’t go outside. I get up and run to hide.  I’d find the best hiding spot.  There’s a big empty box on the side of the school.  It’s big enough to cover me.  I pulled it over my head and squat down.  When she comes looking, I’d jump up and yell “boo!”  She’d scream and laugh and so would I, and we’d run back inside together.  It’s dark inside the box but I didn’t mind.  I like the dark.  It’s best for hiding.

I sat and sat and sat.  I felt tiny insects crawling along the skin on my ankles, underneath my pale blue pants.  My shirt was the same shade of blue and was covered in white fluffy clouds.  I know my clothes will be dirty when I’m finally found.  Mom will be angry.  She put the outfit on my bed after breakfast today.  The pants had so much starch in them they nearly stood up on their own when I accidentally knocked them to the floor.  My shirt smelled like our lavender detergent.

Mom made blueberry pancakes with happy face banana slices, my favorite. After I ate I sat for another hour as she straightened and curled my short hair and arranged it into two small, bouncy, curly ponytails on either side of my head, twisting and turning my neck so hard until I was so sore I thought I couldn’t take it anymore.  But I never whined.  Mom says it’s important to be pretty.  That’s another way to get people to like you.  I decided I wouldn’t think about mom, or the way her arms shook when she hugged me before I got on the bus this morning, or about the long talk she would give me when I got home and she saw the red dirt caked all over my ankles and the seat of my brand new pants.  I’d just think about being found.

The bell rang.  I knew that meant it’s time to go back.  To Miss Beakman and the confusing words and numbers written on the board that I didn’t quite understand.  They swirled around and around in front of my eyes like they’re making fun of me.  I don’t want to go back.  I missed when Mom taught me. She taught me the alphabet and how to count to 10.  How to add and subtract. But then, we learned other things. We watched movies about dolphins and whales, I would sit close to the screen and watch the mysterious creatures ripple through the blue, heavy water like it was air.   I learned about a tribe of gorgeous women in a place called Namibia who grow their hair into long locs and dye it red, they don’t wear shirts and let their children run all over the village, wild and free.  I envied the children, but mom called them crazy.  I wonder if Miss Beakman will ever teach us about Namibia. I doubt it.

A herd of footsteps galloping toward the side door of the school after the bell made me sit up straight.  It reminds me of the herds of elephants I watched in a movie once, running across the African desert.  I got more excited.  A lonely pair of footsteps separated from the pack.  I heard them approach the box.   My heart pounded so hard I can hear it between my ears.  This was it.  I took a deep breath.  My legs started to shake and my stomach flipped over as the box is suddenly jerked above my body.  I looked up, preparing to scream “boo!” just as I’d planned, but the word gpt stuck.  This girl standing there was not my new friend.  I’d never seen her before.  Or maybe I did catch a glimpse of her.  Sitting in the front of the classroom, writing down everything Miss Beakman said in her yellow tablet.  Now I remembered.  She seemed really smart.  That’s why I was afraid to ask to be friends.  But now she didn’t seem so scary. Her skin looked smooth and soft and was the color of mom’s morning coffee after she added a dollop of cream, her hair dark brown and what some of the old ladies from the neighborhood who had coffee with my mom in the mornings would call “nappy.” They would look out of the window at a child with her hair passing on the street and tut tut tut to themselves.  “Look at that child’s head,” they would say, as though the mom could somehow hear them through the walls.  Mom always pursed her lips and took a sip of coffee when they talked that way.  She spent as much time straightening and curling her own hair as she did mine, but for some reason, I didn’t think she agreed with them.

I liked this new girl’s hair.  Her kinky curls looked soft and wild and twisty, tied back with a bright scarf that matched her apple green t-shirt and the pattern of green and yellow flowers and paisleys on the patches on her jeans.  My smile disappeared.  I was confused.

“Where’s…?” I began.

“They aren’t coming,” she said, not smiling, holding out her hand.

I took it, then dusted off my pants, shook the dirt out of my sandals. “But…?”

“They’re already inside.  We have to rush if we’re going to make it before the bell.  Race ya!”

And with that she took off with a giggle.  My smile returned and I hurried behind her, still confused, but happier than I’d been that entire day.  I’d asked my mom many times why she chose to marry daddy, since she showed me pictures before of her ex-boyfriends she kept in a secret box hidden under a floorboard in her closet.  It smelled sickly sweet of old flowers and stale perfume and always made me gag.  Each time she’d shrugged and said, “When you know, you know.”  Now I knew too.  This girl, whose name I hadn’t even learned yet, who had been the only one to search for me, or to even know I was hiding, was going to be my best friend.   I just knew.

And my new favorite color was now apple green.