Monthly Archives: November 2014

Seventh Grade

Lissa was the most popular girl in the seventh grade class. She had curly dark hair and a winning smile. The boys all said that she was pretty, and they also said that I wasn’t. But I didn’t think she looked that different than I did. Sure, she wore brand name clothes and makeup, and I didn’t. Sure, her hair was glossy and combed and perfect, and mine wasn’t. Sure, she could carry on a conversation that didn’t involve a book or an animal, and I couldn’t. Sure, she was interested in boys, and I wasn’t. To me, we were really just the same.

Everyone wanted to be around Lissa. To sit at her table at lunch, to walk with her in the hall, to carry her books. Her upcoming birthday party was the talk of the cafeteria. I heard that the invitations were selective, not the normal “everyone gets one just for being in class with me” type we had grown up with. I heard that she was handing them out herself. I heard that they were on glittery Lisa Frank Stationary, with cute, brightly colored animals plastered all over them. I heard that there would be boys at the party.

I viewed the invitation as a ticket to … something. And god, did I really, really, really want that ticket. I wasn’t sure why. Did I want to fit in? Make friends? Finally get interested in a boy? Or did I really just want to be invited somewhere, to be a part of something?

Lissa’s shoes clacked against the cafeteria tile as she walked towards the seventh grade area, invitations in hand. My seat was at the edge of the table, with at least two spaces between me and everyone else. Just out of conversation range, because no one really talked to me anyway. I stared at my bright red compartmentalized lunch tray, digging my spoon down and scooping up mashed potatoes that might as well have been soup before letting them drip back onto the tray without putting them in my mouth. I held my breath as Lissa got to the table.

She gave an invitation to everyone.

Everyone except me.

There would be no cute glittery animals. No party. No presents. No boys. Not for me.

For the rest of the year, I refused to eat lunch in the cafeteria. I stayed in one teacher’s classroom or another, reading books or doing homework. It only cemented in my classmates’ eyes how weird I was, but I didn’t care anymore. I figured that if I wasn’t going to fit in anyway, I might as well not fit in doing something that made me happy.

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My Alter Ego

You are a character on a page. The protagonist in a story that needs to be told. You aren’t me, because this story did not happen to me. If it just happened to you, then I don’t have to deal with it. Don’t have to handle it. Don’t have to speak it.

I feel for you. What, exactly, I’m not sure. But I do feel. I let you take the reins, be the narrator, tell the story. I let you beat up on yourself. I let you get hurt. I let you have your small victories. But I keep you there, on the page. Because it’s better that you’re there.

If you live the story, if you are the one who powers through it and does all the surviving, then I don’t have to. I don’t have to admit that the events of your story are my story, and therefore I don’t have to deal with them. If I leave them with you, in a file on a computer, in a box, at the printer, then they aren’t with me. They aren’t mine. I don’t have to accept them.

There’s no rhyme or reason for what happened to you. No band-aid or magic spell that will make it fade into the nether. It is senseless and horrid and awful, and nothing erases that. I cannot make what happened to you better, or change it in any way. I cannot take it back. No one can. But slowly I’m figuring out that it’s better if we’re the same. If I admit that you are me and I am you. If I speak your words, because you never will—and if you never tell your story, if you never leave the page, then it’s all for nothing.

Please don’t let it be all for nothing.

This cannot all be for nothing.

I speak.This is how we give purpose to the purposeless, meaning to the meaningless, hope to a situation that is utterly hopeless. When I accept you, when I let you back in, when I speak your story, my story, I am slowly making it a positive thing. I am using what happened, by my own choice, to maybe make a difference to someone else. I am turning something horrible into something beautiful by making it something I survived, not something I ran away from. Not something I hid behind. Not something I left with you. I am accepting you, and I am finding purpose.

I could not do this without you.

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Childhood Mistakes

Sweet Adelines is a nationwide women’s barbershop organization that has extensive choirs in almost every state. When I was a kid, my grandma was both a member and a director of the local chapter. She would bring me to rehearsals and let me sit up front on her stool, sometimes helping to direct. She would also give me cassette tapes of their rehearsals and concerts so that I could listen at home.
My favorite tape as a child was of the concert series they did on music of the 1920’s. I loved it so much that I not only played it at home, I also demanded my grandma play it in the car when we were running errands: “Play it again!” Grandma would bribe me with ice cream and Happy Meal toys to listen to something else, to no avail.
One day, after going to the post office, we drove home with the tape playing. I was nestled in the back seat with a few My Little Ponies, brushing their manes and singing along to the songs that I knew backwards and forwards. We got home too soon; the last song on the second side of the tape hadn’t finished yet. I begged my grandma to let me stay in the car and hear it, even though I had heard it at least one hundred times before. Grandma grabbed her purse from the trunk and went inside, leaving me alone in the car. I unbuckled my seatbelt and stretched out my legs, my tiny pink sneakers resting on the console in between the two front seats. I closed my eyes and listened to the music, in my happy place.
I was singing, and then, suddenly, I was rolling. Backwards.
The house my grandmother stayed at was on the top of a very steep hill, in the middle of the woods. The car was moving, slowly at first. And I thought it was a game. Until it hit the crest of the hill and gained speed. I cried out then, in perfect crescendo with the joyful choir. I wasn’t joyful anymore; I started to cry. My grandma came banging out of the side garage door, running after me, her poofy white hair a glow of light as I disappeared into the woods. Rolling down, down, down, and then the crash that I didn’t see coming because I never thought to turn around.
The car slammed into a tree in the middle of the woods, off of the main driveway path. My grandma plucked her way through the trees and wrenched open the door next to me, helping me out. The music still played; the fall had felt like forever, but it had really been less than a minute or so.
She told me later that she was never sure whether I had kicked the gear shift with my feet or she had forgotten to put the car into park. I always suspected she was protecting me from my own mistake.

On Time (And How I Suddenly Have More of It)

Can we talk again about how I got fired? Because I got fired. And still don’t have a job. The last week has been filled with interviews, video games, writing, bath robes, a really fat cat, and five and a half seasons of Gilmore Girls. I talked more in class this week than I have to date, mostly because it was the only verbal conversation I had with human beings this entire week. I even stepped up my grad student game and went to tea in the writing program office for the first time. My cat and I have had innumerable conversations wherein she begs for something, anything, to watch but Gilmore Girls, and I stubbornly sit on the bed with my laptop and my joy on the screen. I think she’s ready to kick me out into the world. She regrets the days she ever told me I should stay home all day. She’s sick of me. I’m a bit sick of me. But I’ve been going about this “time” thing all wrong.

For kicks and giggles, I submitted a few pieces back into the world to keep my queue of submissions full. Three pieces, to be exact. To fifteen magazines. Two of those magazines I paid to submit to. That makes the score Life: $6.00, Me: $0.00. This is being a writer. Yay.

Don’t get me wrong. I like writing. And I want to teach writing. In addition to my other joy, I also wrote my first course proposal next week for a teaching fellowship for next year. And I know that this period is the getting to next year, a year when I will hopefully have that fellowship, be an instructor of record, and be using the experience teaching my first year nonfiction course to gain other jobs. And a name. And therefore more publications. But I am sick to death of being told I will never make it as a writer by literally EVERY SINGLE professional writer that I talk to:

“At the edge of the MFA, there’s nothing. No safety zone, no padding. No place for a fledgling writer to go to build up a repertoire. There’s a vicious, piranha filled zone where you have to go out and try to sell something, and you won’t succeed. We aren’t a culture anymore where money is what it once was. For things like writing, or, really, anything.”

Every writer we interview for my seminar tells us we won’t make any money. That writing is dangerous. That the public doesn’t know what it wants anymore. And all these things are true, but I’m still sick of it. Way to be disheartening to those of us just starting out. Way to scare us, to mess us up, to make us quit.

That’s what it’s all about here, you see. Weeding out the weak.

I’m not weak.

I’m a good writer. But I’m really only GREAT at one thing, and I know it. I know my book will be on the back shelf, at the very bottom, way off of eye level. Or at the bottom of the online book list. And that’s okay, because it’ll only be my first one. And there is no safety zone. The world is vicious and it’s going to eat me and my work. There is no place to build up a repertoire, sure. But no. That time is now. Maybe that’s why I got fired—to give me the time back that I came here for. To build up that repertoire. To gain my writer name, and prove that writer wrong. Sure, this is not a culture where money counts for much anymore, where writers get paid much. But I can still succeed. And I will still succeed.

So look forward to more. More blogs. More publications. More me. I have time. I’m going to use it.

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Mrs. Thomas

(A new thing that I’m trying–the short essay, 500 words or less.)

I thought the phone call was about Chuck e Cheese.

I urged my Grandma to answer the phone. It rang a lot before she got to it. I was practically bouncing up and down into the plaid couch cushions.

You see, my best friend, Alanna, was supposed to be having a birthday party. At Chuck e Cheese. I didn’t get to go there often, only for parties. But I loved the games and the fun little prizes I could get with all of the tickets I won at the games. The day before said party, which was to be the highlight of my third grade winter, Alanna came down with the chicken pox. A massive phone tree went out. No more party. We couldn’t have a bunch of third grade girls coming down with the scratchy sickness and missing the last days of school before Christmas vacation.

My grandma answered the phone when it rang, on the little pink landline that still hangs in her kitchen to this day. The hello was her normal bright tone; I was listening carefully while also keeping an eye on my episode of Rugrats. But then she took the phone and disappeared down the hallway, the curly pink cord stretching into her bedroom and the door shutting behind her.

It wasn’t about the party then. I went back to my cartoon, having rapidly lost interest in whatever was occurring in the bedroom.

My grandma came out of her room a few minutes later and quietly hung up the phone, but I didn’t pay much attention until she crossed the room and stood in front of me. “Shut off the tv for a second.”

I did, annoyed that it was in the middle of my show.

“So listen.” She sat down on the fluffy pink armchair next to the couch. “Your second grade teacher, Mrs. Thomas, passed away last night.”

“Passed away? What does that mean?”

“She…died.”

“She did?” My eyes were quite wide. Death to me was a thing relegated to tv shows like The Simpsons, not something that happened in real life. “How?”

“She had a problem inside her head. She went to sleep and she didn’t wake up.”

“Okay,” I replied. I clicked the remote on button and went back to my tv show.

I found out later that the “problem” my grandma had been referring to was an aneurysm. My former teacher’s brain had literally exploded; they hadn’t been able to get her to the hospital in time. My former teacher, the one who fixed my broken zipper at recess, the one who french braided my hair, the one who encouraged me to read, was gone. The former teacher who had given us all a red apple Christmas ornament before our second grade Christmas break.

It was Christmas time. I found the ornament on the tree, and there was a tiny chip out of it. Like someone had taken a bite. A piece that was forever missing.

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Square One

So I got fired today.

I told someone today that I was ready to pack up and go home to Wisconsin because the city had eaten me. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I didn’t come here for a job. I came here to write. It was not the most fantastic of jobs, working for Barnes and Noble. (I can say the name in writing now that I no longer work there and am no longer bound by their “do not blog about us” rules.) It did have one perk though. People.

N told me last week that working there has been good for me. She was right. I got to know a group of very awesome, incredible people from all walks of life and (literally) all coasts of the country. I loved my cashiers. The actors and actresses. The artists. The readers and writers. Even the ones I didn’t talk to much. I still have a post it that one cashier stuck on my station a few weeks ago of the Gilmore Girls characters; I stuck it to my wall by the light switch.

I will miss them.

I’m a massively shy introvert; I hate having to meet new people. So without a job, I probably WON’T. Or at the very least, it’ll be a lot harder. I’ve lost my little network that, no matter how much I hated my job, really did mean a lot to me.

I take my firing as me being a threat on a lot of different levels. The bogus reason given to me for my termination simply isn’t important. The truth is, I saw too much; I knew too much. I was too good. It’s that simple. I was GOOD at my job. I hated it, or rather, I hated the place. But I was GOOD. They’ve lost me, over something dumb and completely fictitious, as my investigations this evening have revealed.

I came to New York to write, but everyone here keeps telling me that I will make no money doing that. There is little money in nonfiction. Absolutely none in memoir. I knew that coming here, and I always said it didn’t bother me. But now that I’m in the real world, I doubt my degree. I doubt what I will use it for. It seems pointless sometimes, this idea that I am writing things that won’t sell. Writers now have to write for the market, the market controls the writer. You don’t cater to the market, you don’t thrive. My writer is a particular niche, and it’s one I’m good at. It’s difficult for me to break outside of it, and outside of it is where the world wants me to go. Why did I go after a degree to…write? The more people tell me the money isn’t there, the more scary my degree seems. I need something else job-wise, and that blows. I rehash my choices now, my slowness at looking for something else. Or the even bigger choices—did I pick the right school, the right city? Should I have gone somewhere where I didn’t have to work? Every time I think I know, the city bucks back. I haven’t learned how to ride yet. I haven’t learned how to stand up for myself. I haven’t learned how to be properly angry.

I’m back to square one now. A writer in New York City with no job and no discernible source of income. I may take out an additional loan until next semester to supplement my pathetic savings. I have an interview with CBS on Tuesday for a part time internship. But in the meantime, I have time. Time to be a student. Time to think. Time to write. Those are the things I came here for, the good things. The things I do awesomely well. By myself. With the cat. Nothing wrong with that.

Until I start talking to her and she starts answering back. Then we have a problem :).

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