Blogging 101 Day Fifteen: Create a New Posting Feature

So, a not-so-secret revelation about me.  I hate routine.  Besides work and some religious commitments, I like my life to be distinctly unscheduled.   Of course there are some things I have to do on a regular basis, like exercise for example.  But I’ll never be that girl that has a set Pilates class every Saturday morning at 7 am.   One day I may do Pilates, the next I may tackle a hike through nature with my dog at my side, another I may catch up on some reality TV while I crush an hour on the elliptical.

Besides my faith (and my husband!), the one thing that I’ve been involved with consistently is writing.  Short stories and novels specifically.  I’m sure, buried somewhere in the corner of a closet somewhere in my parents’ home, there is a bundle of crudely illustrated short stories and novellas dating back to my first grade year.    So, I thought to myself as I read today’s blogging 101 assignment, how hard could it be to write something new every week?

There are a few characters and plot points that have been knocking around in my head for a while.  Nicollette (aka Nic) a young mom suffering from mental illness, Leelah, her preteen daughter, and Leelah’s best friend, Sunny.  Throw in a mysterious death, a betrayal among friends, a few mental breakdowns, and I might have something.  It may lead to a novel, maybe it won’t.  Those scary commitments again!

So every Saturday morning, I’ll be posting a new story, usually a page out of one of the aforementioned character’s lives.  Maybe I’ll come up with a catchy new name for this weekly feature, but so far everything I’ve thought of sounds super-cheesy!  I hope you’ll stop by.  And as always, I’ll welcome your feedback!

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Writer’s Quote Wednesday – Claire Messud

the woman upstairs

I wouldn’t want to be friends with Nora, would you? Her outlook is almost unbearably grim.

For heaven’s sake, what kind of question is that? Would you want to be friends with Humbert Humbert? Would you want to be friends with Mickey Sabbath? Saleem Sinai? Hamlet? Krapp? Oedipus? Oscar Wao? Antigone? Raskolnikov? Any of the characters in The Corrections? Any of the characters in Infinite Jest? Any of the characters in anything Pynchon has ever written? Or Martin Amis? Or Orhan Pamuk? Or Alice Munro, for that matter? If you’re reading to find friends, you’re in deep trouble. We read to find life, in all its possibilities. The relevant question isn’t “is this a potential friend for me?” but “is this character alive?”

The sexist question above was posed to Claire Messud by Publisher’s Weekly regarding the main character in her book The Woman Upstairs and I absolutely love her answer.  She killed it.

Of course Messud wouldn’t have been asked the same if Nora were a man.  Male characters are allowed to be complex, brooding, frustrated, angry, downright brutal, and they are praised as anti-heroes or complicated bad boys.  Take some of those same characteristics and apply them to a female character and it tends to confuse people.  Why?  It’s completely perplexing to me.  Guess what world?  Women in real life are complex and complicated!

There are women who can be unspeakably cruel, even violent, like Amy Dunne in Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (an extreme example, of course), but many of us have experienced the aggression of a truly horrible textbook mean girl.  Some mean girls reform themselves by the time they grow up, sadly others grow into meaner women.   In contrast, there are women who live with a simmering rage boiling right beneath the surface, like Nora. There are women who live with addiction, depression, obsessions, or other forms of mental illness. Rachel in The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, and Allison in All Fall Down by Jennifer Weiner come to mind.  And there are girls who quietly, bravely, survive, or crumble, under terrible circumstances, like young Kambili in Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi or Pecola in The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison.

I enjoy reading, and writing, about complex female characters.  I praise women who are brave enough to create them.  Maybe one day, if more women feel bold enough to speak about their dark histories, struggles, or eccentricities in the real world, people won’t find it so jarring to find a complicated woman in the pages of a novel.

As an aside, I actually would want to be friends with Nora, I think she would be interesting to get to know.  But I’m a complicated woman myself.

http://silverthreading.com/category/writers-quote-wednesday/

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

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I view what some think are imperfections as quirks.  I’m super quirky.  To say I’m in touch with my inner child would be an understatement.  If you live in my hometown you may catch me lying on the ground staring up at the clouds with an expression of wonder on my face, running through the grass barefoot, jumping off the swings in my local park, eating with my fingers, leading a group of my friends’ kids in a game of hide and seek or a treasure hunt, dancing and singing down the aisles at the top of my lungs to a great song playing over the loudspeaker at the grocery store or pharmacy, reenacting scenes from my favorite goofy comedies (voices and all), and I never pass an animal in public without stopping to pet it.

I just told someone a few days ago I think our child selves are our real selves. Some may disagree, but it’s a truth to which I hold on strongly.  My child self was the happiest version of me.  And when I let her out as an adult, I’m happiest now.

Dumb Happy

i’m not like them/but i can pretend

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Inspired by If Sadness Was a Person by Huckleberry Friend

https://huckleberryfrienduniverse.wordpress.com/2015/08/08/if-sadness-was-a-person/

In my comment on this blog I mentioned the song Dumb by Nirvana.

I know music is open to interpretation, but in my mind, this song is about a person who can’t be sincerely happy without help, meaning some sort of mind-altering substance.  I don’t know what kind of substance to which Kurt Cobain was referring (or maybe I do, unfortunately), but in my case, it’s antidepressants, or what I refer to in my mind as my bottle of happy.  Without my happiness in bottle, I can’t work, or think clearly, or be creative, or hold a conversation with my husband, or friends, or play with my dog, or really do anything besides sleep.  Even with my prescription of happy, I can still have bad days.  Like today.   The clouds in my head are finally starting to clear and at least I can write again, but it’s already 3 pm and most of the day is gone.

There are some days when I wake up happy, like a miracle.  Practically leaping from bed, going outside to get pictures of the sunrise, cleaning the house, taking the dog on a long walk. planning outings with my husband or friends.  I wish I could hold onto that feeling everyday, even if it’s just dumb happy and not authentic happy, because it’s something.   Once I know what that feels like and then the same feeling eludes me for days it makes me wonder, what did I do differently that day?  Did I eat something especially healthy the day before?  Did I have a great endorphin-releasing workout?  Did I accidentally take the wrong dose of something?  But I have to accept maybe it was just a fluke and wait for it to happen again.  I make sure not to waste those days.

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hiking at sunset on a good day
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Most days my personality is pretty even-keeled.  I look forward to small moments that will make me laugh or smile or feel peace, quiet reflection in prayer and meditation every morning, a wise-cracking co-worker, my brother’s daily phone call where were reminisce about childhood shenanigans or the daily craziness that is his life, (he’s just one of those people who was born happy and I love him for it, my opposite) my husband’s funny stories on the ride home, the silly, goofy movies I play on a continuous loop in my bedroom and living room at home, private jokes with girlfriends shared over text or in person. I try and make the effort to see them as often as I can.  Not to mention spending time with children.  My friends’ kids never fail to get a giggle out of me. Plus, some of the things they say are so poignant and sweet and they don’t even realize it at the time.  And they aren’t shy about telling me how much the love me, nor I them.

I may not leap out of bed everyday, but I do look for little pockets of happy in small moments.  I am not sure sometimes if those moments are dumb happy or true happy but sometimes being happy is all that matters, even if you need a little help from a bottle.

Get Happy – Conclusion

Today I get to combine two assignments in one.  First I revamped my blog based on tips from Blogging 101 – Day 2.

Next – Open  University Assignment: Start Writing Fiction 1.4 Portraying a character

Now present your new character in the four different ways outlined in Activity 7. Here they are again:

  • 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.

*

swiss alps

There was a knock at the front door.  Sara had just stepped out of her dress and was about to pull on a pair of worn jeans and a t-shirt, preparing to meet up with some friends a few blocks away for a drink.  She wanted to spill all of the details of her date that never was.  Her eyebrows raised, she slowly approached the door as though there were some sort of deviant on the other side.  She never got unannounced visitors, especially this late at night.  Had the elusive Chet tracked her down and decided to apologize in person?

She padded across the dusty hardwood floor in bare feet and peeked through the peephole.  It was Amy.  Sara stepped back from the door and sighed.  Her sister was ready for round two she guessed.  Well, she was too.  She quickly whipped the door open and could tell she’d startled her, which pleased Sara the tiniest bit.  Sara just stared back at her, eyebrows still raised, as if to say, ‘Can I help you?’

Thirty miles away, in a sad little suburb in a sagging house on a toy-littered cul-de-sac, Amy and Sara’s mother, Helen, poured herself her fifth glass of wine of the night.  Her husband was settled in in his usual spot in front of the television in his armchair, laughing at some dumb, subtly sexist sitcom.  One of those where the wife is impossibly gorgeous and the husband is bumbling and overweight and goofy, but the disparity in their union is never mentioned.  Helen often wondered why the reverse was never portrayed.  A gorgeous guy dating an average-looking woman?  Perish the thought.

Helen stumbled upstairs to her bedroom, settled into her usual spot on her king sized bed that she usually slept in alone while her husband snored away downstairs in his easy chair, and opened her laptop.   She had a new email.  Unusual for that time of night.  She assumed her friends were already asleep.  At some point, after her girls had grown up and moved away, most of her social life had disappeared as well.  She hadn’t realized that most of her friends were ones of convenience, ladies she could talk to at school events and play dates as the kids ran around.  Much of being a parent was just sitting around with other parents, sipping bad wine and complaining about your husband.  None of the parenting books told you that, but it was true.

Now she was down to two friends she was in regular contact with.  An old college friend with whom she’d maintained her friendship throughout her marriage and the raising of her children, though it hadn’t been easy.  Marjorie was single and had never desired a husband or children.  It made things awkward when the girls were young, but now it was almost like things were back to normal.  They were both unencumbered, not that that meant her life was much more exciting.  She and Marjorie did little more than have lunches and talk about books they’d read.  They played around with the idea of taking a long trip together, just to the two of them, similar to an epic road trip they’d taken when they were 19, driving from their college in Georgia all the way to New York City on a whim to see some band perform.  But now, neither of them seemed to be able to make firm plans.  Maybe they both knew those days were behind them.

Her other friend was Nancy, a woman who was the mother of Amy’s long-time best friend, Amber.  They ran into each other all of the time, especially at all of Amy’s pre-wedding festivities.  Amy seemed to still be under the impression that Helen and Nancy were close, and always included Nancy and her husband whenever she planned family get-togethers.  The truth was, Nancy was a friend of circumstance.  She didn’t dislike her necessarily, they just had nothing in common beside their girls.  Whenever they were left alone they found that they had little to discuss with each other besides mundane things like the weather and fashion.  But sometimes they exchanged funny emails, usually stories about something Amy or Amber had done that confounded them or made them laugh.

Before opening her email, she checked Facebook and held her breath, hoping the first image that assaulted her eyes wouldn’t be that of her youngest, Sara, downing a shot of something dark and suspicious looking, which was usually the case.  But no, there was a picture of Sara in Amy’s living room, all made up, clearly Amy had done her makeup with a heavy hand, in a lovely dress that made her look like a cinema star from the 1940’s.   She looked like Helen 30 years ago.  The same chocolate brown hair; Helen’s mane was still lustrous and shiny but now tinged with gray, but she still had the long, lithe body from the Pilates DVDs she used religiously six days a week, and the wide green eyes that she’d bequeathed to both her daughters.

She stared back at her Facebook timeline.  Amy must have taken the picture of Sara.  Her mouth smiled, but her eyes told a different story.   “Off to a double date!”  Amy had written in the photo caption, followed by a million little smiley faces and other indecipherable emojis.  Sara looked beautiful, of course, both of her daughters were beautiful, but not quite like herself.  Poor Sara.  Helen knew this whole date thing couldn’t have been Sara’s idea.  Her lovely, free-spirited daughter.  She envied her a bit.  All that freshness and spontaneity and youth.  She did what she wanted and didn’t care what anyone thought.  Unless Amy was involved.   She had a vision, many years ago, of sitting in Chastain Park chatting with Nancy and hearing terrified screams coming from the sliding board where Amy, Amber, and little Sara, only two at the time, had been playing.   The slide was for the bigger kids, too much for her baby Sara, but Amy had pushed her, only figuratively she hoped, until Sara had gone down all by herself, screaming and crying all the way.  She ran to Sara, where she’d fallen face down in the dirt  after the slide had propelled her little body downward at warp speed, wiped the dirt from her face, kissed her still chubby baby cheek and dried her tears.  Sara buried her head in her shoulder as she carried her back to the bench.  “What a baby,”  Helen had heard five-year-old Amy whisper to Amber as they’d both snickered.  Sara had quietly sniffled in her lap the rest of the afternoon.  Helen had wished since that day that Sara would stand up for herself more when it came to Amy; clearly she’d been bullied into this blind date business, but she tried to stay out of her daughters’ squabbles.

She went back to her email and saw the new message had been sent an hour ago from Amy.  It was link to a hotel confirmation for a resort in the Swiss Alps booked in Helen’s name, a package that included multiple guided hikes through the mountains, and a link to an airline gift card that would more than cover first class airfare for two.  She clasped her chest and sucked in a deep breath.  Amy.  She’d remembered her whispers.  Helen could still feel the weight of her smaller head against hers, years ago on this very bed.  She’d felt so lost, disillusioned with life and marriage and motherhood.  She’d had no one to confide in.  All of her mom friends seemed so happy and content.  Marjorie would have just said, ‘I told you so.’  She had been convinced since college that marriage was just a sham perpetuated by a patriarchal society set on keeping women from realizing their true potential.  Therapy was out of the question.  Sara was so young and running wild, never noticing her mother’s unhappiness.  But it was Amy who would crawl into bed with her and ask, “Mommy, what is it?  What’s wrong?”  And she’d told her.   Her 10-year-old daughter had been the only person with whom she could be honest.  Horrible parenting, she knew, but she also knew those clandestine talks had saved her life.

Helen forwarded the email to Marjorie and said, “I’m in.  Are you?”  She only had to wait five seconds before she got her response, an enthusiastic, “YES!!!”

Helen closed the computer, steadying herself, then stood  and made her way back downstairs.  Walter was nodding off in his chair, the television and the dumb sitcom still droning on.

“Walter!”  She shook the chair to rouse him.  Her husband stirred and slowly opened his eyes with surprise.

“I’m going on a trip with Marjorie.  To Switzerland.  We leave next week.”

“Errr…okay….” he mumbled groggily.

“And when I get back.  I think we should see someone.  A therapist or counselor or something.   Our insurance should cover it.  Maybe not a top-notch one, but someone.  I’m unhappy, Walter.  I’ve been unhappy for a long, long time.”

Walter looked confused.  He was a simple kind of guy.  As long as he had his family, his TV remote, cold beer in the fridge and money in the bank, he was a-okay.  It was one of the reasons she’d married him.   She knew he would be loyal and sweet, only needing her and their little family, nothing more.  Unlike her own philandering father.  But she wouldn’t think about that now.  That would be a story for the therapist.  The only thing she had to do now was pack.  She hurried upstairs, without stumbling, seeming to have sobered up completely, leaving Walter’s perplexed face behind her.

Back at Sara’s doorstep, Amy was still standing in the hallway, waiting to be let in.  Sara saw something that slightly resembled regret in her eyes, and reluctantly stepped aside so Amy could get past her.  She’d changed too.  She wore her gym gear, a light blue jacket, yoga pants and two layered multi-colored tank tops, her face scrubbed and her hair pulled back.  She was such a beauty, so ethereal-looking, with her naturally clear translucent skin, auburn hair warming her face, her cheeks red from the cold.

Amy stepped inside and started to look around.  Here we go, Sara thought.  She knew Amy would comment on the hastily discarded dress on the floor, the books scattered all over the couch and her bed, since her apartment was so small she could see through the open door of her bedroom from the foyer.  There were dishes in the sink waiting to be washed and dried, a basket full of clean laundry waiting for Sara to pick through and find a clean top to wear out.   But when she really looked at Amy she seemed to be seeing her humble little apartment for the first time.

And she was.  Amy was seeing the wall of bookshelves their father had put up for her, remembering Sara always said she wanted a wall of books in her house when she was all grown up.  A declaration she made after she saw the epic castle library in their favorite movie as kids, Beauty and the Beast.  She saw all of the keepsakes for her travels around the world, a framed photo of her and a friend in the Andes Mountains, stunning pink and aqua blue coiled sea shells, unusual-looking red and brown rocks saved from various hiking trips, white sand collected from a Thai beach in a bottle, the words Samui Beach scribbled on the glass.

She saw another shelf lined with a collection of used vinyl containing some of her favorite bands and an old-fashioned record player. A well-worn guitar leaned against it, which Sara had spent many hours learning to play as a teen, despite Amy’s telling her it was a waste of time. The living room had a wide open space of empty flooring, the only furniture was a small, dark red love seat with bright throw pillows and a side table.  Stepping closer, Amy saw the framed photo that sat atop it.  It was her and her sister, arms around each other, the ocean behind them, the wind whipping their hair around their faces.  It was during their last sister trip.  Two weeks before she married Steve.  Of course Amber had thrown her a huge bachelorette bash a month prior, but this had been a special trip just for them.  They’d gone to Miami and had the time of their lives.  They’d sunbathed every morning, gone running on the beach every afternoon, eaten and drank whatever they wanted, and at night, they’d danced to exhaustion.

She realized her sister was different and free and mysterious, all the things she wasn’t, but that was okay.

“What is it, Amy?” Sara asked, arm crossed, but her face softened a bit.

Amy put her bag down on Sara’s loveseat and pulled out a bottle of red wine.  “I’m here to drink wine and dance with my sister.”

A slow smile spread across Sara’s face.  “What??”

“Put on Nevermind.”  She was still giving her sister orders, but this one Sara didn’t seem to mind.  She went to dig through the album collection as Amy braved the messy kitchen to find two clean glasses and a corkscrew, not an easy task, but as she returned to the living room she heard the beginning strains of Lithium.  She handed a glass to Sara and started to play air guitar.  Sara shook her head and laughed at her dorky sister.  When the chorus hit, they both began to sing at the top of their lungs and sort of jump dance around the room.  As Amy danced she looked at her sister’s flailing body, her hair whipping all over her face as she sang, then pictured her mother on a mountaintop, her closest friend at her side, breathing in the crisp, cold air and sighing deeply, an expression of profound contentment on her face.  Amy said to herself silently, ‘So this is what it feels like.’

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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