Tag Archives: writing

The Ticket (a sestina)

Last week for school, I wrote a paper on the postal service reform of 1840, and how the postal service in the Victorian Age parallels what the internet is for our age. I won’t bore you with that.

This week I wrote a bunch of stuff about Isabella Beeton, who wrote The Book of Household Management, the full title of which is The Book of Household Management: Comprising information for the Mistress, Housekeeper, Cook, Kitchen-Maid, Butler, Footman, Coachman, Valet, Upper and Under House-Maids, Lady’s-Maid, Maid-of-all-Work, Laundry-Maid, Nurse and Nurse-Maid, Monthly Wet and Sick Nurses, etc. etc.—also Sanitary, Medical, & Legal Memoranda: with a History of the Origin, Properties, and Uses of all Things Connected with Home Life and Comfort. I don’t know about you, but I find stuff like this awesome. It reminds me of the Emily Post Etiquette books. I have read some of The Book of Household Management (you can get the Kindle version on Amazon for $2.99) and there is just something so fascinating about how specific the guidelines are for a woman’s behavior, duties, and role in society.

But, I actually have a whole second class too, which is a writing class, called Studies in Place & Setting. I’ve been worried that I’m neglecting this class a little bit, because the Victorian era class is taking up a lot more of my time (see above). But I think that’s the nature of the two different types of classes. (Also, I’m a little jealous of people who take classes without also having a full time job, and/or a 2 1/2 year old running around.)

Anyway, for Studies in Place & Setting, this week we were asked to write a creative piece about someone who loses something or someone, tangible or not. I decided to write a sestina, which is one of my favorite poetry forms. This is basically the first draft of it.

The Ticket 

Lydia hitches her bag up onto her shoulder
And makes a break for the turnstile. The train
Is coming, moving faster than seems safe,
As it hurtles into the station. She skids to a stop
On the platform, the train a wall of silvery gray
Blurring in front of her, like all the friends she has lost.

The doors slide open. The riders look lost,
Fitted in like puzzle pieces, shoulder to shoulder,
Just another Monday morning commute, slate gray
Like the sky outside the windows of the train.
Lydia gently shoves her way in, looking for her stop
On the map above her head. She feels safe

Among these people. Lydia thought safe
Was the last thing she’d feel, essentially lost
In a big city. Her parents had tried to put a stop
To her leaving home. Her mother had cried on her shoulder
When Lydia boarded that Amtrak train,
Leaving that little town of black and white and gray.

She maneuvers her hand into the cool gray
Interior of her purse, checking that her ticket is safe.
She knows she needs it to get off the train.
But her biggest fear: the ticket is lost!
Not in her purse, not in her pocket; her shoulder,
The one not stuck against the wall, starts trembling and won’t stop.

The people lurch as one as the train heaves into its stop.
Lydia feels like her skin is struck gray.
A man stumbles into her, briefly touches her shoulder
As passengers exit around her, their tickets clutched safe
In their fists. Lydia thinks for a second of the lost
Opportunity: the job interview waiting just off the train.

She is still standing there as the punctual train
Doors close, and the beast rumbles out of Lydia’s stop.
She thinks of all the things she’s willingly lost:
Her parents, most of her accent, the horizon-wide gray
Skies of home. That limitless sky made her feel safe.
Anyway, she was never sure about taking this job onto her shoulder.

There is always another train home, and a gray
Farmhouse at some nameless stop. She holds this safe
In her heart, the lost ticket suddenly a weight off her shoulder.

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Filed under Books, Fiction, Writing

Genesis (a short story)

In the beginning, it’s awkward, as so many things are. You don’t know where you’re allowed to sit, where you’re expected to sleep, what there is to eat. You don’t even know what to call him. He seems to assume you know his name, and it apparently doesn’t occur to him to ask yours. Not that you would even know the answer.

He shows you around, touching you carefully as though you’re new-blown glass. He doesn’t seem to know what to do with you. (But you don’t know what to do with yourself.) He tries to make small talk with you, but it’s one-sided. You want to ask him about everything around you, but you don’t want to pester him. When you do ask him a question, he gives a long-winded answer that leaves you feeling…annoyed. If he knows more than I do, it’s because he’s older and more experienced, you think, not because he’s smarter.

Although…maybe he is smarter. You want to ask him what he thinks.

You’re perching carefully on a large mossy rock, watching the fish jump in the river, when he calls to you, “Eve!” For a moment you don’t move, and then you realize he’s talking to you, using a name you haven’t heard him use for any of the plants or animals he’s shown you. He calls again—“Eve?”—and you stand up tentatively and take a step toward him.

“Can you bring me some figs?” he asks, from where he’s stretched out on the grass. You look around, until he points to the correct tree. You gather a handful and bring them to him, then watch him pop each one into his mouth. He makes an irritating “mm…ah!” sound after each one, but doesn’t offer you any.

“Thanks, Eve,” he says as an afterthought. You’re not sure what the appropriate response is, so you just smile. Later, you think maybe you should have thanked him back?

As the sun starts going down, and a barely perceptible coolness settles over the garden, an untoward rumbling sounds comes from your midsection, followed by a vaguely uncomfortable feeling of emptiness. Your male companion apparently notices the noise, and he asks, “Are you hungry?”

“Hungry…” you say. “Yes, I think so.”

He seems confused. “Well, then eat something.” He gestures around you. “Eat whatever you like.”

Suddenly the choice seems too large for you. “Oh, I don’t even know what…” He takes your hand and leads you from tree to bush to vine, giving you the names again that he gave you that morning. “Mandarins…grapes…olives…dates…figs…” he says, and you repeat each one, determined this time to remember. At each stop he also picks a fruit and puts it in your mouth, so you can savor each different taste, and use the flavor to help remember which is which. After one complete pass through the garden, you’ve tasted dozens of morsels from his fingers, and no longer feel hungry.

Soon, it’s full dark, the only light coming from a high clear full moon. The birds have completely stopped singing. You hear a hooting noise from somewhere in the wilds of the garden, outside of your clearing. Your mind feels less sharp than it had in the daylight, and you have an urge to lie down. You look around for an appropriate place, but it seems that your male companion has claimed the biggest, softest stretch of grass. He’s on it now, propped on his elbows, legs sprawled out. He’s watching you.

“You can come lie down with me, if you want,” he says. You don’t want to hesitate and hurt his feelings, so you step carefully over to him and stretch out, using your arm as a pillow. For a moment, all is quiet, except for the myriad night noises that reach you, most from sources you can’t yet name, although the sound of the river is familiar.

You can hear him breathing shallowly.

You are simultaneously exhausted and alert. Today seemed so long and so full, and all you want is to be momentarily unaware of it again. You have lived a lifetime in twelve hours. You feel as if you could close your eyes and drift away, tethered to this garden but in a different place somehow.

At the same time, you are highly aware of him so close to you. He doesn’t seem tired and ready to drift off. But what could he possibly want from you? In the dark?

He shifts position and then you feel his hand on your stomach. You hold your breath, but he leaves it there, as if it’s an accident. Then he says quietly, “Do you think that you’re—that I’m—that we’re both here for a reason?”

“I don’t know why I’m here,” you say.

“Well, you’re here for me,” he says. “You’re here because I was lonely.”

“But I don’t even know your name,” you admit.

“I’m Adam,” he says, surprised. “Didn’t anyone tell you? I’m Adam. You’re Eve.” A pause, and then his hand slides higher up your stomach, and your muscles tense. “We belong together.”

“What are you doing?” you ask. He’s quiet for a moment.

“I’m not sure,” he says. “I just wanted to touch you. I felt like I should touch you. So I did. Is that all right?”

“I suppose so,” you say automatically. Then, “Actually no, I’d rather you didn’t right now.” When he doesn’t respond, you add, “I mean, I just learned your name.”

“I understand,” he says, and his hand is gone, replaced by the cool feeling of nighttime on your skin. Your initial sense of relief is replaced by longing.

You don’t sleep much that night. In the moonlight you can see Adam’s profile, as he snores quietly next to you. You think about his words: You’re here for me. We belong together. And if you can’t figure out why else you’re here, isn’t that as good a reason as any? You think of the animals he showed you today—they all come in pairs. A goose and a gander, a doe and a buck, a lion and a lioness. An Adam and an Eve?

As the sky is lightening, you finally fall asleep. You sleep lightly, not really dreaming. When you feel Adam get up, you’re fully awake again, but with a newfound sense of peace.

When you get up, he’s sitting cross-legged near the river, absent-mindedly plucking a handful at a time and sprinkling it into the water. As you watch, two ducks float into view, followed by a trio of ducklings. You feel a pleasant tug inside you at the sight of the small family.

You walk to Adam’s side and sit down. He smiles at you and pulls some more grass. You slide your hand into his free hand, and lace your fingers through his, and without a moment’s hesitation he squeezes back. You’re still not sure what the future holds, but for now, you feel content. You lay your head on his shoulder and you both watch the ducks until they’re gone.

 

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Previously on: This Week

So for two weekends now, Drew has been taking this class for work. Simultaneously, one of his clients came down with strep, then an allergic reaction from the antibiotic, and finally pneumonia. So for two weekends in a row, Drew’s weekends have been completely filled with work, while I tried to keep B’s and my weekends filled with educational and engaging activities.

On Monday morning at 4am, I woke up feeling nauseated. I spent the rest of Monday at home, lying down with my eyes closed as much as possible, while dealing with a raging case of food poisoning. On Monday evening, right as I was starting to come out of it, Drew held up B’s hand and said, “What are these spots?” and so (luckily) we called the doctor and (luckily) it was one of their late nights and (even more luckily) they were able to get us in that night. Turns out B had a mild ear infection as well as a mild case of HFM, which thankfully hasn’t seemed to spread anywhere else besides his hand, and doesn’t seem to bother him too much. But I kept him home on Tuesday.

Since then, he’s been acting mostly just fine, but occasionally just…under the weather. Like, he doesn’t really fight naps or bedtime right now. Which is nice. Sometimes he just wants to cuddle. In the mornings, rather than eating, he just wants to be held. All nice things. And I think all just fall under the category of “I’m not feeling great. Please rub my back while we watch Curious George.”

But now Drew and I have sore throats and stuffy noses, which I think (optimistically) is just the beginnings of a cold, and nothing more. My parents are here now and I wish I hadn’t had to lure them into this den of sickness. It would be nice to hang out when we’re all feeling top-notch. But it’s also really nice to have the support right now. (I guess they’ve seen me sicker than this.)

Last night, Drew and I went to see a short play of mine performed in a college theatre festival. It was a lot of fun, even if we were out late (and far from home!). College theatre is so fun, and silly, and supported. It was cool to remember what it was like when it didn’t matter if you were good, because the house would be full of everyone’s friends, and you’d have lots of cheers at curtain call no matter what.

And that’s what you missed last week on: Me!

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tbt: Ashes North

My new term at school started this week, and I’ve been trying to figure out how to juggle two classes at once. Also, this week at work we revealed our upcoming season to the public, so there was a lot of planning to be done for that party and the (good) aftermath. The good news is, I think I got my feet back under me. The even better news is that the Fiction Writing class is exactly what I wanted: some readings, then write a short story. Critique others. Every week. I am so excited.

I have been focusing on the other class (Literary Theory), so I don’t have anything to show yet for Fiction. But I thought I would hearken back to my first Fiction class at UC Davis, which I believe was 2005. I don’t remember what the prompt for this was. But it’s clearly loosely based on Lakeport (which, for the record, I adore – and which, in the last 10 years, finally got a Starbucks).

==

Ashes North

There is a magical thing happening to the town of Ashes South, Minnesota. Children and adults are gathered in the streets, eagerly awaiting the arrival of the bulldozer that will destroy the building that was their church in the seventies and early eighties, to raze the land and build afresh on top of it. Teenagers pretend not to care but in their diaries and when they’re drunk they confess to each other how excited they are about the changes that are coming about in Ashes South. There is little more to talk about between classes at the local high school, and the students – 207 in all – shiver in the cold February air, rubbing their arms through their jackets and talking about how the town will change. Daydreaming about the exciting lives that will soon be theirs, they pass around stolen cigarettes behind the weight room during the lunch period, then munch tic tacs on their walk back to the classrooms when the bell rings. But the entire time, they are talking about the news they’ve been seeing in the local paper, watching on the local news, discussing in their economics/government class, and hearing about from their parents over dinner.

South Ashes is the last town in Minnesota to get a stoplight. It is the last town without a public pool: the closest is 30 miles away. There are three families in the town with pools and they have pretty much accepted coming home in the afternoons to pools full of high schoolers, looking sheepish but unapologetic. In South Ashes, everything is closed by 6 pm, sometimes 5 pm on Sundays, except for the Safeway which was built 2 years ago: it’s open until 11 pm on the weekends. If teenagers are hanging out at midnight and get hungry, they’d better have stored up supplies earlier in the day, or they’ll be waiting until the morning. The Ashes South High School has a drama department, but it’s one 45-minute class per day, and their productions are sadly low-budget. Sometimes a parent volunteers to direct the spring musical, but usually it’s directed by the drama teacher, who is also the freshman English teacher, and also coaches boys’ basketball in the right season.

The people of Ashes South feel unexcited. They feel thin, and uninteresting. They flip through travel magazines but don’t go on vacations because they don’t want to embarrass themselves by accidentally exclaiming, “Look at how tall that building is!” or something similar. The tallest building in Ashes South is the courthouse, at three stories, and truth be told, the adults of Ashes South are a little afraid of the big world.

Today something is changing. The mayor of Ashes South is making an announcement about which everyone has already heard: rumors travel fast when there are less than 4000 people in a town. Still, everyone is excited about it becoming official. They gather in the town square, in front of the old library, down by the lake, and they murmur to each other while they are waiting for the mayor to make his announcement. Finally he arrives, and the cheer that goes up surprises even the people of Ashes South: they weren’t quite aware that they were capable of making such a noise.

The mayor is a man who never grins. But he is grinning. He knows the good news he has to impart on the people of his town, and he and his advisors have been working all month to perfect the plans. When he announces the arrival of a Starbucks in town, the citizens of Ashes South cheer: they have seen such things on television, they have read about them in books from the local library. Some of them have traveled, and they have tasted the wonders of the Starbucks. They have told others about this good thing. The mayor has just announced that one will be opening in Ashes South, and he steps that up by telling them the hours. “It will be open until…” He pauses for dramatic effect, even though it’s unnecessary. The people are absolutely hanging on his words; even the teenagers have forgotten to pretend that they are not interested. “…ten o’clock on the weeknights, and eleven o’clock on the weekends!”

The citizens are stunned. In the silence that follows, the mayor announces his slightly less unsettling news. “Because of this new addition to our economy, and the direction in which our city will now continue, we will no longer be known as Ashes South, Minnesota,” he says. “We are now the people of Ashes North, Minnesota!”

A cheer goes up, the mayor and the man who will become the new manager of the Starbucks drink a toast to the future success of the city, and the people of Ashes North leave the town square, talking about how their city will grow: how there will be freeways running everywhere and how even at 3 am, it will be so bright from lights that it will seem like daytime. There is excitement in their footsteps.

Ashes North closes down for the night, at 6 pm just like scheduled, and people continue to discuss the Starbucks over dinner, bowls of ice cream, and the nightly news. The old church is razed to the ground by the end of the week and the field sits, looking empty and ready for change.

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My love affair with Ira Levin

One of the other things keeping me busy lately has been a writing class I’m taking – the first course of an online master program in creative writing. It happened kind of out of the blue. A friend of mine mentioned how she was finally going to bite the bullet and get her masters, because her husband had found this program that was entirely online and fully accredited. I looked it up and it looked good, so now she and I are both students at Southern New Hampshire University.

Go Penmen!

So I just finished my first class today. I submitted my final paper this afternoon (before crashing and taking a 3-hour nap…yikes). This class was the basic intro class on Rhetorical Grammar – so lots of talk about voice, rhythm, diction, cohesion, adverbials/adjectivals, punctuation, nominals, and other exciting concepts. I actually really enjoyed the class, and I think that was due in part to a cool, accessible professor.

It was probably also partly because we were able to choose the author we would be focusing on throughout the term. So while some people were applying voice/rhythm/diction/etc to HP Lovecraft or Shakespeare, I went and picked Ira Levin, one of my all-time favorite writers.

A major upside to writing about Levin is that his books are generally pretty short, so it was relatively easy to read through Rosemary’s Baby and The Stepford Wives about 3 times each over the last couple months, as well as reading Veronica’s Room and the endings of Sliver and Son of Rosemary. (I still can’t believe this is scholarly.)

If you’re going to write a 16-page paper with 12 different sources, this isn’t a bad stack of books to be working with.

FullSizeRender (1)

I get a week off before the next term starts, and I’ll be taking a literary theory class (which terrifies me) and a creative writing class (which thrills me). I plan on using this week to watch all the Best Picture nominations we have left, to read something besides Ira Levin, and to sleep as much as possible.

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New Works Festival 2014

I spent Friday and Saturday of this weekend at the New Works Festival. On Friday night I saw an 8pm show and then an extra special 10:30pm cabaret-style show. I got home around 1am. Yesterday I saw three shows: one at 12pm, one at 4pm, and one at 8pm. The 8pm one was over 3 hours long. I got home around midnight.

While I’m definitely feeling the effects of the long weekend, and I’m grateful I had the foresight to not plan to be there all today as well, it was such a cool experience. This is one of my favorite things about theatre – brand new plays, trying new things, up-and-coming writers taking chances. And Festival Weekend is especially awesome: between all these new plays, you’re mingling with other audience members and supporters, trying out the food truck, stealing M&Ms from the donor lounge. I love this time of year. Other theatre companies are dark in the summers, but I’m so glad we’re crazy enough to cram a bunch of stuff into July and August. =)

The very special show on Friday night was called One Woman Show, by Shakina Nayfack. It’s an autobiographical piece about her gender transition, and most of the story takes place in the 1990s. It’s a combination of storytelling, and songs written by great contemporary NYC songwriters for Shakina’s show. I don’t want to sell it short by trying to explain the story in detail. But it was inspirational and at times heart-breaking but ultimately totally uplifting.

It also made me think about what I would possibly talk about if I had to write a 90-minute autobiographical show. I think I could fill 15 minutes, but 90? I haven’t done anything crazy or scandalous or perhaps even that interesting in my lifetime. Which I suppose I should be happy about. Because that also means that nothing traumatizing or shocking has happened to me. Which is good.

The New Works Festival is an inspiration to get writing. If I can’t write a cabaret-style show, maybe I can work on something less autobiographical. That might be more appealing to the masses.

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Throwback Thursday: Short Fiction

March 2003

Andrew’s father was learning to be a squirrel.

“What is your dad doing?” the other kids would ask.

“He’s practicing—” was Andrew’s reply.

Andrew was almost eight years old.  He lived in a yellow two-story house.  The staircase had a banister he could slide down, when his mom wasn’t watching.  The upstairs bathtub had been leaking for almost a year, so Andrew showered downstairs.  They had a cat, Adelaide, who brought the family gifts of small rodents from the acres around the house.  The backyard was big and sloping, enclosed by a fence that came up to Andrew’s chest.  Flakes of blue paint were chipping off the fence, and you could see Andrew’s footholds that he used to vault over it.

“Andrew, use the gate!” his mother would cry from the kitchen bay window where she sat to do crossword puzzles.  Andrew’s hands would grasp the top of the fence, and in two steps he’d be over and running down the slightly sloping land, into the trees that grew on the acres behind his house and yard.

This is where he first saw his father talking with the squirrels.

 

Andrew timed his breathing with his footsteps, in, out, left, right, in, out, left, right.  Leaves crunched under his feet like the screams of tiny elves.  He grabbed hold of a branch to slow himself, and swung his body around, feeling the sharp bite of the bark in his palm, smelling the moss and the fungus that lived in the trees.  His breathing slowed and he ran his hand down the tree before walking on.

He heard a voice to his left, and he walked toward it as quietly as possible—a difficult feat over dry late-September oak leaves.

It was his father, on the ground on hands and knees.  There were leaves in his brown-gray hair and a little twig on his shirt sleeve.  He was peering up intently at an oak tree, and didn’t see Andrew approach.

“What?”  His father cocked his head toward the tree.  There was a squirrel, bushy tail spread out behind him, clinging to the bark on the tree.  “Ah, I see.”  Andrew’s father rose to a crouching position, and Andrew could see he held something in his left hand.  His father raised it to his mouth, and holding it in both hands, began to nibble at it–it’s a walnut, Andrew realized—as he would at a piece of pound cake, or a chunk of smoked Gouda cheese.

Andrew watched, fascinated, as his father finished the nut and wiped his lips with his thumb.  He then moved, still in a crouch, toward the tree.  The squirrel, who had watched Andrew’s father the whole time, suddenly looked at Andrew.  His father turned too, just as suddenly, and almost fell over when he saw his son standing there.

“Andrew!  What are you doing?  Don’t you have chores to do?”  He had stood and was brushing off the jeans he wore on weekends, and shaking leaves out of his hair.

“Finished ‘em.  What are you doing, Dad?” Andrew asked.  He pointed to his father’s sleeve, and his father brushed the tiny twig away.

“Oh, just chatting with the squirrels.  They’re great company.  You can learn a lot,” his father said cheerfully.  “You ought to try it some time.”  He patted Andrew’s head and hugged his shoulders.  “What do you say we get some lunch?”

“I already ate,” Andrew said.  The squirrel had run up the tree into the high branches, and he scanned for it, but it had blended in and disappeared.

“Oh, did you?  Well, I’m going to go get a sandwich.  Are you going to stay down here awhile?”

“Yeah.”  It was the perfect time of day to play in the woods.  The sun was beginning to fall, and it was slitting through the trees in places, creating glitter out of the dust in the air.  There were places Andrew could see the actual shafts of light, and he liked to stand still and watch them shift and then disintegrate as the sun moved out of place.  He liked the way tree trunks went fire orange right before the sun finally set.  The woods could never be the same because leaves fell and trees grew and squirrels ran madly like small senile old ladies and the sun never stopped crawling across the sky.

“Well, you know to be back in the yard by dark—”

“Yup,” Andrew said.

“I’ll see you later then.  Remember, the squirrels are very interesting.  They can teach you anything.”  His father winked solemnly.  “Just listen to them.  Bye, Andrew!” He began to make his way back up the hill.

“Bye, Dad!” Andrew called, then turned and surveyed the trees around him.

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