Sunday, September 14, 2014

The View From the Shore #StoryBySunday

She chews a piece of lavender gum and stares across the water, trying to remember what is on the other side. Her fingers rest in the valleys between her knuckles as she imagines that she has anybody else's hand to hold.
She had jumped into something she didn't understand, without thinking about the landing. Eyes closed, screaming at the thrill of rushing air and an unknown destination. They made love on a boat in Lake Michigan and she thought that was all she needed to know.   
She had thought they'd move to Wisconsin, eventually. He'd maybe go back to school and she'd buy a kayak that she'd learn to steer on summer days when she wasn't stuck in whatever shop she'd have to sell her soul to to cover rent and his tuition. At night, breathlessly falling into each other, she'd lay her head on his chest as he points to the ceiling and tells her where her favorite constellations are.
He was somewhere else now. Maybe he made it to Madison alone. Maybe he's still on that tiny island where they met. Maybe he's just gone in a way she doesn't know how to accept. She squeezes her fingers until they stripe pink and white. Looking at them she figures she ought to feel something.
They never should have left the blue waters of his bedspread. There was an entire world tangled up in those sheets and she couldn't remember now, why she had thought that she had wanted more. She dug down deep into herself looking for a reason. Digging until it hurt, scratching at herself until she left scars but still she could not see the truth from where she stood on the shore.
The lake looked like an ocean from here, blue that might as well go on forever because she was never going to see the other side.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Dandelion Seeds #StoryBySunday

The first thing I thought, when he told me about the cancer, was "what am I going to do with all of his stuff?" Immediately I could imagine the house clean, decorated without compromise. I imagined a bathroom where the toilette seat was always down. And then I looked at him and said "Oh my God." And that was all either of us said for a very long time.

The prognosis was good. The doctor used a lot of big words I didn't understand and one that I recognized from TV. There was talk of treatment options, side effects, and expected outcomes. I think I nodded and squeezed Mike's hand at all the right moments but I really wasn't listening to anything that was being said. I was thinking, instead, about how much nicer a sectional would look in the living room and wondering how much I would get for his Redskins memorabilia on e-bay.

Mike didn't lose his hair at first but he lost a bit of that gut I had been meaning to start getting on him about and there was a moment, looking at the new, slimmer, Mike, that I thought maybe the cancer would be good for us. We'd be that couple that beat cancer with wheat grass shakes and yoga and love. And then I realized the truth.

I sat next to Mike in his cancer chair, holding his hand, watching something important drip out of him as the poison dripped in. And I thought about what my first vacation alone would be like. Driving home, Mike laid out across the backseat, sleeping, instead of the road I saw new skies, new loves, I saw decisions I only had to make for myself.

One arm dragging across my shoulders, Mike's hip pressed into mine as we walked up the steps, slow and fluid like a dance we had been practicing for in our sleep. The doctor said the treatments were working and I looked for it in his face after I helped him into bed.

He slept and I crawled carefully towards him. I ran my fingers through his hair and when some came back with me I held my fingers close to my mouth, put my lips together and blew a kiss. Watching the strands and clumps float to the carpet like dandelion seeds, I made a wish.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Night Light #StorybySunday

She lay in bed, like she did every night, staring up into emptiness, counting a steady stream of nothing until she fell asleep. If she fell asleep. Some nights this was all there was, the gentle in, out of her breathing and a frustrated 1, 2, 3, 4... until the sun started to creep in through the window.

She had lost count four times somewhere around 3,246 but her eyes were still stubbornly staring and there was not a single yawn threatening to escape from her lips. That was when she saw it, when she sat up, twisted her body around and titled her neck at a curious angle to stare at what shouldn't be there. A thin thread of light slipping in underneath her door. There were no muffled or whispered voices, no near or distance footfalls; only the light.

She tried to ignore it. She told herself to close her eyes and go back to her counting. She knew that was what she was supposed to do. Ignore the light that shouldn't be there. She tried.

The floor was cool against her bare feet as she slid out of bed and out of the room and down the hall. The house was almost entirely dark. There was a light, somewhere, that was struggling to make its way towards her but she could not make out its source. It was so faint she still could not even see her feet hitting the floor in front of her.

She walked toward the light because she couldn't think of a reason not to. If she could not make her body want to sleep than she might as well use it. Creeping through darkened corridors towards an unknown source of light was preferable to boredom. Anything was better than lying on her back staring up, unblinkingly, at an infinity of nothing. Again.

The light did not appear to be growing, nor did it diminish, it remained a constant question, a whisper she needed to lean in just a little further to hear. She kept walking. The path was clear even though she was ever unsure of what her next step should be.

She paused once; she stopped. She thought that maybe she should turn back. The girl turned around. Her feet fixing themselves in place, she twisted at the hips to get a look behind her. There was nothing there, only darkness like a wall. Even though somewhere inside her she knew that was where she had come from, she was afraid. The fear sent chills through her arms and she turned back towards the light. She didn't know where she was going or how far she had come, only that she needed to go forward until she figured it out.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

School Supplies #StorybySunday

She lines three pencils in a neat row next to a blue pen and a black pen and a thick yellow highlighter. A virgin marble notebook sits closed beside them and she lightly taps a tattoo on the black and white speckled cover.
It excites her, new pens, a completely untouched 100 sheets of wide ruled paper. Her classmates start to file in one by one and two by two and sometimes in groups that have to undo themselves in order to make it through the door. She smells change. She smells fear. It all feeds her. She smiles at the summer clean blackboard and sits taller in her chair. Soon the room is almost full and, without looking, she can feel the ring of empty seats around her. The smile doesn't waver, though it wants to.
The bell rings. Textbooks are passed down the rows like a bucket brigade. She has to stand and stretch to take a book and pass it on. Finally, when the book she takes is hers to keep, she stares at the flaws in its facade; the cracks in the corners, the scratches on the cover- some accidental, some deliberately carved. She runs her hand across the face of the book and shudders. She does not like used things.
She looks at her notebook to calm herself, at her three newly sharpened pencils with unblemished pink buds of erasers, at her pens and highlighter, all unspoiled and perfect and waiting. She looks down at herself, at the blouse and skirt and shoes and everything she put on for the first time tat morning, removing tags, taking off protective plastic packaging. Everything is clean and new. She is clean and new. She showered so many times she really ought to be.
Mr. Conroy is pacing and wringing his hands and lecturing about his love of politics and she feels a pull and she wants to be drawn in but instead she slides back ad she thinks that maybe she can slink to the floor and slip out the door and run away from all of this.
She thought she was stronger than this. She told herself that she had won. She believed it when she was alone in her bedroom with her wet hair and clean clothes, placing a marble notebook into a brand new backpack. She thought she had won, had stuffed the secret down her throat and swallowed. But the illusion only lasted when she was at home. As soon as she came back here she knew; no one has any secrets in this place.
She could see it on their faces and in the way that they turned from her. She could feel how she only existed in the corner of their eye now, something to be whispered about but never approached. She saw herself the way she knew they saw her. She saw the dirt pouring out from her skin turning everything she touched a crumbly black.
The dirt was everywhere, dripping down from under her skirt and piling up at her feet in tiny hills. It was running down the side of her face and churning in her stomach. It wasa pushing up, crawling through her, trying to escape. Her eyes were full of it; she could not blink.
She wanted to scream but bit her bottom lip to keep the breaking pieces inside. She had been here before, she knew what to do. She stared at something far away, a photograph on the classroom wall of a place she'd never been. She went there. She left her body and the dirt and screaming need behind and she just kept breathing until the bell rang.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

But I Remembered the Blueberries #storybysunday

This is the moment they're always talking about in movies. The sun is rising behind her face, tendrils of light touching on her hair so that blonde is transformed to gold; she glitters as she starts to wake up.

Sarah turns toward me, scrunching down our sleeping bag with her caterpillar crawl so that goosebumps spread out across my bare shoulders. But I don't mind. She smiles with her eyes closed, yawns, full mouth to the world, and when she presses into me all of the chill is gone. The goosebumps remain.

I stare at the golden glow of her, the light that I have to remind myself that she is borrowing. Somehow though, I feel that she would be luminous even in the pitch black of a cave. Science be damned.

This is the moment, the 'I just knew' moment that reaches back and rewrites history so that from now on I feel as if somehow, some part of me has always 'just known.'

Sarah mumbles something into my chest and it takes every ounce of willpower I've ever earned to peel myself away from her. I pull on jeans, grab a t-shirt and step out of the tent to start a fire for breakfast. I'm making pancakes if I can ever figure out how any of this is supposed to work. Sarah is walking towards me before the kindling even starts to smoke. As soon as she takes over, sparks fly up.

Her blue eyes are grey as she holds a hand up to shield them from the fire and the sun fighting to get to her through the trees. She is full of such surprising beauty in even the smallest moments that I swear I'm going to burst trying to breathe it all in.

I want to spend the rest of my life in this moment. Armageddon will come and go and we'll still be here standing between the fire she built and the tent I didn't quite put together right, feeling the universe move through us.

I have just enough breath for one word. "Pancakes?"

Her smile is mysterious and sad and gone from the right side of her mouth before the left side knows what it's doing.

"You didn't pack the griddle."

"I remembered the blueberries though, your favorite. We could walk into town, buy a griddle."

"Steve."
"Or just forget the pancakes. There's plenty else we-"
"Steve."

I step towards her and she backs away. She stumbles but catches herself before falling towards the flames.

"I really should be getting home."

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Asking Without Shame


If you spend any time anywhere on the internet you’ve probably heard Amanda Palmer’s TED talk by now. If by chance you have a life away from your desk and do things in the sunshine and haven’t seen the video, you’ll find it below.



This video appeared in my twitter feed like manna from internet heaven, like little glittering fairies surrounded Amanda while she was writing so that her words would reach out and touch my very soul. Or, you know, maybe it was just a fortuitous coincidence and she explored issues that a lot of us struggle with. 

It might be that last one but I’m not quite ready to give up on fairies just yet.

As brevity is the soul of wit and no one wants to hear me whine, my story boils down to this: I got a promotion. I was not given enough training. I knew that I was not given enough training. I did not ask for the help I needed. I was unsuccessful and demoted. As tales of woe go it’s not the most tragic; I still have a job, I still have my health, my family. Nothing was hurt, as they say, but my pride.

And my pride, really, is the core of the problem. I knew I needed help but I was too embarrassed to ask for it. There’s a stigma about asking, about needing. For so long I’ve lived by the philosophy that if I can’t do it on my own that means I’m just not good enough, smart enough and no one will like me.

Asking is scary. You’re telling someone that you’re less than perfect, that there is something that you lack; you’re being voluntarily vulnerable. You’re asking for something and they may so no. And not getting what you need sometimes seems safer than asking for it. Which is all so preposterous when written out in front of me, but then, fear is often ridiculous. I mean, I’m still terrified of clowns.

The heartbreaking part of my little professional melo-drama, the part that makes me want to smack myself upside the head, is that I was working my ass off and worrying myself sick trying not to fail at a job that I didn’t care about because I never stopped to ask myself what I want.  I was so concerned with what other people would think of me and what other people thought I should be doing, who they thought I should be, that I didn’t ask myself for what I needed.

The most important thing I gleaned from Amanda’s TED talk was that she is able to ask for the help she needs from others because she has allowed herself to ask. She started with herself and gave herself permission to be human and vulnerable and trusting, to “ask without shame”. 

I can spend my life crying in the handicapped stall of the women’s bathroom  OR  I can ask myself what it is that I truly want and I can ask for help from the people who can help me get there. 

Amanda helped me to realize that asking usually isn’t just asking, it’s sharing. Sharing is what connects us, whether we're sharing personal stories on sad little blogs or sharing 20 bucks to help an indie author self publish, or sharing what we need -allowing someone to help us, to feel a part of someone else's life if only for a moment.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Is there a world you long to see?




The first time I saw Les Mis I was 15. Orchestra Right. Row H. First seat in from the middle aisle. By this time I had the entire libretto memorized and as the overture began I gripped both armrests tightly because, sitting there, I knew that I could run and jump on stage before anyone would be able to stop me. They would pull me away and put me in handcuffs immediately and, since this was a school trip, I’m pretty sure I would have been suspended. 

There’s still part of me that thinks it would have been worth it.

Almost exactly a year before this I was in the hospital. I was afraid and alone and surrounded by strange and sometimes scary people. I had a walkman and a cassette of the original Broadway recording of Les Miserables and I put on my headphones every night and sung silently to myself, trying to sleep.

Les Mis means something to me. Not just because I’ve spent countless unrequited nights singing “On My Own” in my bedroom and empathizing with Eponine. But because songs and stories have the power to carry us through our darkest times if we can let go enough to dissolve into them.

Disappearing into the French Revolution can have strangely healing affects.

Almost exactly 16 years after that night at the Imperial Theatre I was sitting in a movie theatre watching the revolving stage of my childhood turning into a whole wide world.  And I felt like I was 14 again in more ways than I care to admit.

I could nit pick.  I could question casting choices or random and bizarre lyric changes, or the inclusion of new songs in an already overflowing libretto. But really, when it comes down to it, none of that shit matters.

The only thing that matters when you’re talking about a movie, or any piece of art, is: how did it make you feel? Or, rather, did it make you feel?

Les Mis makes me feel. It makes me ache and hope and doubt and aspire for something more than the petty little dramas playing out in my head. Les Mis makes me want to fight and love and struggle and find someone worth standing in front of a bayonet for, to be someone worth standing in front of a bayonet for. It makes me want to write something that makes someone else feel something, anything. And it makes me want to sing out at the top of my lungs and not give a damn what anyone else thinks..

Broadway play or Hollywood musical, it’s all still there.

And I felt every minute of it.