A Space for Writing

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I can write anywhere.  I can be sitting at my desk at work and an idea will strike me, either a plot twist for something I’m already working on, or a flash fiction short story.  I’ve been riding public transportation, at the dinner table, in meetings, in class, and had to jot notes down on the sly.  The feeling consumes me and I HAVE to write.  My head and fingers tingle until I get the ideas out.  Ideally, I like to write in a quiet room, my husband asleep or out for a few hours (sorry, honey but you are LOUD), my dog napping at my feet.  My dream would be to have a retreat to go to a few times a year, maybe a place in the desert, or the mountains, or at the ocean, in autumn or winter when the beaches are deserted.   Just me and my laptop.  And caffeine.  And a few of my favorite movies and novels when I need a break.  I would take long walks for inspiration, breathing in the mountain/desert/salt air and just letting my mind expand.

Right now I’m torn between two ideas – finishing a novel I’ve already started about two young women struggling with mental illness, a mother and daughter.  The novel switches narrators between the mother, Nic, as a girl, and the daughter Leelah, as a teenager, trying to find her own happiness and solve the mystery of her mother’s death.  I’ve published a few excerpts here.  The second is a novel that I’ve only written the character studies and outline for, much lighter, a comedy.  The story of a woman in her late-twenties working at a dead-end job she hates.  She left her last job in shame due to exacting revenge on her jerk of an ex-boyfriend who happened to be her boss.  There’s a quirky cast of characters she meets along the way, like her micro-managing boss, a potential love interest, a two-faced frenemy, the office mom who knows everyone’s business, a new best friend who helps her move on.  I wrote sort of an introduction here.  Let me know in the poll which you would like to read about!

Corporation X

Corporation X.  You know it.  You probably work there.  You started out like most of us do, full of youthful arrogance and promise, with dreams of changing the world with our words, writing the great American novel, city lights, exciting travel.  But Corporation X is where most of us end up.

It’s located in a generic office park somewhere out in the boonies, not in some skyscraper downtown overlooking the city skyline as Hollywood movies would have you believe.  The building is two stories, maybe three.  Every window has a view of the parking lot, or the alley behind the parking lot.  There’s a grimy microwave in the break room, with a crudely written sign taped above it that screams, “Your mama doesn’t live here so clean up your mess!”  The aroma of stale coffee and disinfectant and hundreds of thousands of frozen meals and household leftovers sticks to your clothes after your lunch break. And despite the time of year or the state of the weather outside, temperatures are kept at a frigid 50 degrees or lower at all times.

It doesn’t matter if Corporation X sells office supplies, bottled water, feminine products, or computer equipment.  Maybe they don’t sell anything tangible at all.   Because what we all do, is sit in a 5×5 cubicle with our heads down, a blanket wrapped around a shivering, hovered forms, shuffling figures around spreadsheets, dodging calls, answering emails, sneaking to Facebook and Netflix to break the monotony, and waiting for the day to end. It’s amazing that Corporation X has lasted this long, with so little actual work taking place.  If they really knew, they’d fire nearly everyone, keep the one or two brownnosers that actually puts in an honest 8+ hours a day. But they don’t know, because you’ve mastered the masquerade.  The furrowed brow, the furious typing, the half wave, or nod that says, I’m very busy, can we talk later?  The Man never has to know that you’re really posting a rant on your Facebook wall about whomever Shonda killed off last night during Grey’s Anatomy.

If you aren’t careful, Corporation X will steal your soul, like it has stolen so many others.  You’ll leave here in 40 years with a dwindling 401K, a plaque with the gold paint already peeling, and a slap on the back from the boss for your trouble, driving yourself home in a daze wondering, is this really it?  Or, you’ll do what I’ve decided to do.  Rebel.  One day I will leave here, but on my own terms, head high, soul intact.

Treasure

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I’ve never been much for jewelry, in fact there’s a small box of tangled necklaces, forgotten bracelets and unworn earrings on my dresser.  I love art and books but don’t have the patience (or bank account) to build a collection of first editions or rare oil paintings.

So, I treasure people.  Finally, I’ve been able to find a group of ladies who get me, who don’t judge me, who just listen when I need to vent, who give tough love when I need it but don’t wound me permanently in the process, who love to laugh, who don’t take themselves too seriously, who let me be me.  One of their names merely showing up in my caller ID can instantly calm me.  People like that are rare.   So, when I find them, I collect them.  It took me years to build my collection of loyal, smart, funny, quirky and dependable friends.  I had to grow up myself.  Learn to speak my mind.   Banish the negative from my life.   That meant I had to purge my collection a few times.  Start over again nearly from scratch. The years of effort, of slowly perfecting my collection were worth it.  I still don’t have a Girl Squad of Taylor Swift proportions, but that’s okay.  I’m a discerning collector.

The most exciting thing about my collection is that it never has to be complete.  It will take time, but I hope to keep adding to it forever.  I’m always on the lookout for a kindred spirit, just like an art-lover looking for that rare authentic masterpiece among a sea of forgeries.

In the meantime, I just hope my friends know how much I treasure them.  I try and convey that by being everything to them that they are to me.

Things I Like…in no particular order

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(not a complete list by any means!)

Windy days with the scent of rain in the air
Running with the wind
Mountaintop sunsets
Hiking
Stargazing
Netflix marathons
Lazy Sundays where I do nothing but cook, read, and watch movies
Falling asleep with the window open
Red wine
Sweaty, endorphin-releasing workouts
The smell of a new books and caffeine
Swimming in the ocean
Playing with animals
Goofy comedies – Will Ferrell is my favorite
Classic movies – All About Eve is one of my favorites
Getting lost and having adventures (my dog and I take short day trips with no destination in mind, we’ve ended up at a doggie spa, she didn’t like that too much, a few forest trails, a picturesque town square straight out of Pleastantville, and a strange outdoor gym, among other places)
The end of summer and the beginning of autumn (a made up season I call sumfall)
Juicy Hollywood tell-alls (a guilty pleasure)
Reading outside
Thai food – really any Asian cuisine, they’re all so veggie-friendly
Being at ease in my own skin!

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Middle Seat.”

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My entire body relaxed as I entered the cool quiet of the coffee shop.  The electricity that crackled in my brain as I’d navigated busy city traffic at lunch hour began to subside.  The tension in my shoulders eased.  Unplugged.  I sought out this quiet, out-of-the-way place because very few people knew of it.  I’d just happened to stumble across it one day; the way I’ve found most of my favorite places.

The owner and employees kept to themselves, the decor was simple, long dark tables, plain white chairs, little art work.  Classic jazz played softly through the speakers.  Plus the coffee was outstanding.  Not trying too hard like the uber-trendy place down the street with bright art work clogging the walls, loud top 40 movie blaring, teeming with hipsters and teens.

I ordered my usual, then settled at in a dark corner in the back with my laptop.  I needed to write.  I was taking a creative writing course and had an assignment due that evening that I hadn’t even started.  A 200 word short story.  As soon as I opened my laptop and took a sip of my cappuccino, the door swung open.  I looked up briefly, expecting to see another regular customer, but an unfamiliar woman stood in the doorway.   She was tall, thin in a fashionable way, wearing all black, a shift dress with expensive boots, minimal jewelry, black hair sleekly blown out.  She could have been a model.  It was obvious she wasn’t a native Atlantan, and that she was probably lost.  She looked like someone who would be more comfortable at the coffee shop a few blocks away.

Her phone bleated loudly, causing the peace-loving owner to look up from her paper and stare her down.  She didn’t appear to get the message since she answered it loudly, clomping over to the front counter.  If she actually was a model she clearly didn’t work the runways like Gisele.  After going through every item on the menu and asking the owner the describe every ingredient in excruciating detail, in between screaming into the phone, she decided on a vanilla latte.

I popped in my earbuds, even though there was no sound coming through them at the moment, and pulled my hoodie over my hair.  It was the universal signal of writers and introverts everywhere.  Don’t talk to me.

Still, despite the fact that it was mid-day during the work week and the cafe was vastly empty, she chose the table next to me, continuing her excessively loud conversation with a person I assumed was her boyfriend.

“Where are you!”  she screeched.  “My feet are killing me.  I’ve been walking all over the place, I can’t find the restaurant!”

“What do you mean!”

“I flew all the way here just to see you!  I took the week off!”

“I don’t want to wait until tomorrow!”

“Your mom!”

“I knew that woman didn’t like me!  She planned this on purpose!  She’s probably not even in the hospital!”

“Well take a picture of her and send it to me!”

“Why not…”

It was at that point that my mood changed from annoyed to inspired.  And I remembered one of the greatest tools at my disposal as a writer – people watching!   My fingers began to tingle as I poised them above the keyboard, a story forming in my brain.  A long-distance romance between a feisty Italian model and mild-mannered photographer gone awry.  Maybe won’t be a masterpiece, but at least I would have something to turn in when I got to class that night.

I turned on some music and started to write.

Writing 101 – Day Twenty: My First Piece of Mail

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When I was about four years old, I received my very first piece of mail.  The first that I can remember anyway.  I could read a little by then, so when my mom showed me the postcard, my eyes lit up at seeing my name written in elegant handwriting.  The front of the postcard featured pictures from Charleston, South Carolina, my father’s hometown.  Old antebellum homes, women practicing the ancient art of basket weaving, palmetto trees.  I knew the city well, even at my young age.  We visited a few times a year, always staying at my paternal grandmother’s home.  When we made the five-hour drive, I would sit up front between my two parents (this was the eighties, when car seat laws were more lax) in our huge Chevy.  Even when we were miles and miles away, the windows down on both sides, I would imagine I could hear and smell the Atlantic Ocean.  I knew our trip would include a visit to Folly Beach, a favorite of mine because of the huge waves that I loved to jump.  If you were to ask my parents back then what my favorite part of those trips were, they would most likely say visiting the ocean.  It’s almost true.  It was a close second.

My favorite part was waking up early – I always woke up really early in those days, full of childish energy.  I would race downstairs, knowing my grandmother would already be awake.  I didn’t know what time she woke up, but it was always before me, unlike my parents who I always seemed to have to drag out of bed back home.  I would sit at the table and she would make breakfast, something simple like cold cereal or oatmeal, that I’d usually be too excited to finish.  And we’d talk.  Or I’d talk.  Mostly babbling about whatever was going on in my life at the moment. I was an old soul. She would laugh at my little jokes and anecdotes, then I would get up from the table, leaving most of my breakfast behind, but she’d never force me to “clean my plate” like most of her generation would have.  I’d run out of the front door to visit my cousins who lived a few doors down, feeling very grown up that I got to walk there by myself, not knowing that she was watching from the doorway until I made it safely inside.  Those few minutes every morning were my favorite.  I had my grandmother all to myself.

When I got the postcard that day, I read it aloud with my mother’s help.  It was from my grandmother of course, telling me how nice it was to hear my voice over the phone a few days ago, reminding me to help my mom take care of my brand new little brother.  I smiled and ran to show my dad, who saved it for years and years, until I was old enough to be entrusted with it.  Now it’s framed and sitting on the mantle over the fireplace in my home.  My grandmother passed away a year or so after I got that piece of mail.  I think maybe my most treasured possession isn’t the postcard, but my memories.  Not everyone got to have two awesome grandmothers as a kid.  So I treasure that postcard – that I still take out of the frame from time to time, and the fact that I can still hear her voice in my head as I read it.

Writing 101 – Day Eighteen and Nineteen: Front Porch Exile

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I combined the assignments from today and yesterday.  From a 12-year-old’s POV, free writing, tried not to self-edit, though I couldn’t resist a few times.

Write this story in first person, told by the twelve-year-old sitting on the stoop across the street.

For those of you who want an extra challenge, think about more than simply writing in first-person point of view — build this twelve-year-old as a character. Reveal at least one personality quirk, for example, either through spoken dialogue or inner monologue.

Today is a free writing day. Write at least four-hundred words, and once you start typing, don’t stop. No self-editing, no trash-talking, and no second guessing: just go. Bonus points if you tackle an idea you’ve been playing with but think is too silly to post about.

Mom put me out of the house again.  Says I spend too much time on the computer and not enough time “in the real world,” whatever that means.  Before she started to regale me with stories about her many adventures running through the Pennsylvania countryside during her storied childhood, I stormed out of the front door, purposely letting the screen door slam behind me.  And what is there to do on this boring street?  I muse as I take a look around.  The across the street neighbor is cutting the grass with no shirt on, drinking a beer at the same time.  Doesn’t quite seem safe.  He waves at me and I nod, quickly turning away.  A woman is walking down the street dragging her screaming toddler to the bus stop on the corner – he wanted to stay inside and watch cartoons.  I feel his pain.

It’s so hot it’s almost as if I hear my skin sizzle as I accidentally brush against the metal railing.   Sitting on the front step, I take a sip of the sweating glass of icy lemonade and open my book, since all electronic devices have also been banned by my parents.  My tablet, phone and laptop are being held hostage.  My mom thinks I need to make friends.  I have friends, I always tell her.  Real friends, she emphasizes, as though the months-long friendships I’ve fostered online don’t count.  There’s Amelie in New York who shares my obsession with Pretty Little Liars – we watch and live-tweet it every week.  Then there’s Liam who lives in some small town in the UK, we have the exact same taste in books, we can talk for hours.  And finally there’s Kat in Florida, she’s an authority in all things pop culture, we can laugh about whatever ridiculousness is going on in Hollywood at any given moment.  They’re all my best friends.  My mother doesn’t recognize this kind of friendship, but I do.  If it weren’t for them, there’d be no one.  People who meet me in person can’t see past the outside.  Who I am on the inside is beautiful and promising and special, but no one bothers to ask.  I’m not hideous by any means, my mother says I might be pretty if I put forth a little effort.  I don’t want to be pretty.  Being pretty got me in trouble once.  A cute boy, older, that smelled sour, of alcohol, a party where I was too young to be.  Lured to an abandoned room with the promise of my first kiss.  Then pain, white hot and searing, then the dull ache inside that has never left, not since that winter night six months ago.

So I wear dark, shapeless clothing, old things I find in my mother’s closet, things I get at secondhand stores when my mom reluctantly gives me money to buy school clothes, I pull baseball hats down low over my unruly hair.  So I do the things I must do, then I come home, I go to my room, and I talk to my friends.  The ones who only know the parts of me I want them to see.

I see a girl coming down the street.  She’s wearing white short shorts and a t-shirt that says Gotta Secret – Can You Keep It?  She looks about my age, maybe a year or so younger.  She has the most beautiful hair I’ve ever seen, big and voluminous with shiny red curls, skin turned golden by the Georgia summer sun.  I’ve never seen her before.  Her family must have just bought the house down the street that’s had a For Sale sign out front for nearly a year.  She stops on the sidewalk in front of our small yard.

“Hey,” she says shyly.

“Hey,” I respond, trying to sound confident.  She’s on my turf after all.  I sit up straighter,  channeling Spencer Hastings.  “You like PLL?”

She looks down at her shirt and smiles.  “Yep, I missed the last two episodes though. Was gonna watch today, I recorded them but my mom deleted them.  Said I need to meet my neighbors.”  She rolls her eyes.

I chuckle.  “My mom forced me out too.”  A pause.  “Well, I have all the episodes saved.  We can watch them if you want.”

Her face lights up.  “Really!”  She starts up the walk.

“Yep,” I stand and hold the screen door open for her.

My mom pokes her head out of the kitchen when she hears the door open.  “I said that you needed to…”  she starts to shout, stopping abruptly when she sees the new girl standing in our foyer.  “Okay if we watch some videos upstairs?”  I ask.

She smiles, I think I might see a tiny tear in the corner of her eye.  “Sure, that’s fine,” she says softly.

I look at my new friend and we both shake our heads as we head upstairs.  I know we’re thinking the same thing.  Our moms are such pains.

Writing 101, Day Seventeen: Authenticity

Write about a thing that scares you. For a twist, pick a different style from your ownSometimes living an authentic life can be terrifying.  For me at least.  But I’d rather have a few honest friendships than hordes of phony ones.  I usually favor shorter sentences so I tried to elongate them a bit.  Other than that it still sounds like me.  I did my best 🙂
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As I pull into the parking lot on a sunny, sweltering hot day, beads of sweat are already forming on my forehead, even before I open the door of my car and leave the comfort of my frigid air conditioning.  I clutch the letter in my hand as I get out of my car.  With every step closer to her front door,  I can hear my heart pulsating between my ears.  It’s not too late, I tell myself.  I can get back in the car and sped away, tires squealing, never speak of this letter again.  But I can’t.  I’ve decided to live a life of authenticity from this day forward.  I can’t pretend that everything is okay any longer; a talent that I have perfected since childhood.  My story matters; my feelings matter; I matter.  I climb the steps to the front door and knock loudly.  My stomach churns as I hear movement inside, realizing that I’d hoped no one would be home, that I could leave a hastily scrawled note in the door and run away like a coward.  She opens the door a few seconds later and smiles, happy to see me, but a little confused.  She wants to know why I’m here, unannounced, in the middle of her afternoon.  I can tell she was busy – I smell food simmering on the stove.  There’s a bucket  filled with suds sitting on the kitchen floor.  It’s my last chance.  I can say I just came by to say hello, to see how she was doing, lock everything away in the closet in my brain that’s already bursting at the seams.  Authenticity, I remind myself.  I raise the months-old letter still clutched in my hand so that it’s eye level with her.  She looks even more confused.

“This really made me angry,” I say, my voice unwavering.  The words are finally out, and I am afraid.  Afraid of losing her friendship, but I know it has never truly been real.  This is our chance to change that, begin again, to have a true relationship based on honesty instead of a lie.  I stand on the front step staring back at her, waiting for her to let me in.

Writing 101, Day Sixteen: First Love

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Imagine you had a job in which you had to sift through forgotten or lost belongings. Describe a day in which you come upon something peculiar, or tell a story about something interesting you find in a pile.

The day has finally come.  Mom and Dad have retired; they’re moving to the coast.  It’s been their dream for as long as I can remember.  My brother and I are both in town today, to go through our old stuff in the attic before the junk haulers come and take it all away.  I’m sure most of it’s trash.  Old homework assignments and toys that I’d lost and forgotten about long ago.  When I climb the stairs I see my brother is already there, covered in dust, knee deep in childhood mementos.  He holds up a golden trophy with a big smile.  It’s the award we both won in the talent show back in elementary school.  We’d performed a choreographed Michael Jackson routine that had brought the house down.   I go to give him a hug before heading to my side of the attic.

It’s just as I thought, a lot of junk.  There’s a few hilarious diaries from my tween and teen years that I’d like to save.  They’re dripping with nostalgia.  I open the last diary I ever kept, from my senior year of high school, and start to read.  Every entry is about the boy across the street.  The one I’d been in love with since I was five but had only gotten the nerve to speak to the summer after graduation, when I’d finally come out of my self-imposed shell when it came to boys.  I could get up on a stage and sing and dance for a packed theater, perform a monologue during an audition for a room full of strangers, but when it came to the opposite gender, for some reason I clammed up, my knees melted, I couldn’t seem to open my mouth to say anything remotely coherent.  My best friend had been telling me for years that he liked me too, but I never believed her.  I always avoided him at school, ran in the house when I saw him coming down our street.  It was almost as if I loved the fantasy him so much that I just wanted to keep things that way, didn’t want to ruin the relationship of my imagination with unpredictable reality.

But on the first day of that bittersweet summer, I was in the same attic; it was the best place to spy without anyone noticing.  I saw him step out of his shiny new red Acura, a graduation gift.  I’d leaned against the glass and sighed, thinking about how I’d wasted the past 12 years.  He’d be moving away soon and so would I – I was going to New York City try my hand at performing.  He was moving to Boston for college.  But then I realized.  We had these next three months.  There were three more months before everything changed forever.  I wasn’t going to waste anymore time.  I ran downstairs out the door and across the street.  I stood in front of him, breathlessly.  He smiled at me.

“Hi.”

“Hi.”

We stood in a not so awkward silence for a few beats, then I said, “Would you like to come in for a soda?”  Not quite the over the top romantic first date of my dreams, but it was the first thing that came out.

He nodded, took my hand and led me across the street to my front door.  Twelve years as neighbors and it was his first time inside our home.  It was the first of many dates; we were  inseparable that summer.  We fell in love quickly, in a scary, all-consuming way, but the feeling was irresistible.

Then, inevitably, the summer ended and we moved to separate cities.  We tried to make it work, Boston and New York weren’t that far apart after all.  But we were both so busy, the distance was greater than we imagined; we mutually decided to end it.  I’d heard through the  grapevine that he was successful, had moved back to our hometown, working as an attorney at a small boutique firm.  He’d been engaged but had called it off a few months ago and had just bought a house in town. In contrast, I still lived in New York but was thinking about making a move. I’d gotten a few parts here and there, but 10 years later, I was still waiting tables and doing other odd jobs to make ends meet.  My counterparts were buying homes, getting married and having babies, and I still lived in a cramped roach-infested apartment with roommates, waiting for my big break.  Being a successful stage actress had always been my dream, but sometimes dreams change.

This thought strikes me again as I see him pull up in his parents’ driveway through the attic window.  I get that same feeling I did ten summers ago.  Now or never.  I race down the stairs and out the front door, not stopping until I’m standing in front of him in the driveway as he’s slamming the car door.  I’m restless and excited, 18 once again.

“Hi,” I say with a smile.

“Hi.”  He smiles back.