Friday, June 8, 2012

My Biggest Secret...

When I was 12, I received a school assignment that changed my life. It was simple enough: write an informative essay or short-story. Let’s see—write an essay. Write a short-story. Essay. Short-story…well, that’s a no-brainer.
So, I wrote the short-story and turned it in, certain that I would get a good grade. What I actually got was mandatory weekly sessions with the school psychologist—and a deep-seated complex that probably altered the course of my life.
See… I’ve always had a vivid imagination. I had an imaginary friend until I was… well, how old I was when I finally gave her up it totally irrelevant, but the point is that my brain is constantly making up stories, and when I was about 10 or so, I started writing them down.  I never thought much about it one way or the other until that fated short story assignment landed me in therapy for a year and a half. Suddenly, writing—my writing—was a bad thing. And not just my writing… my thoughts and feelings were suspect. The way I viewed the world was wrong.
When high school rolled around, I found out that I could actually take a creative writing class. You mean that there is an entire class, devoted to making stuff up?? Seriously? My excitement lasted for a grand total of 3.5 seconds. Up until I remembered that my writing got me into trouble. The kind of trouble that consisted of 50-minute hours and being asked, “how do you feel about that?” I spent my entire high school career avoiding all forms of structured creative writing. I perfected The Art of the Essay. I read enough Shakespeare and Dostoyevsky to make my eyes bleed… but I continued to write in secret. I hid notebooks filled with pages of my ramblings, and then had panic attacks when I forgot where I put them. I turned into some kind of rabid animal when someone said, “what are you writing?” And when someone was brave or stupid enough to say, “can I read it?” I said no, but not just no… I said absolutely, positively, over my dead rotting corpse—NO.
College came, and I remembered staring longingly at the CRW course list… I wanted very badly to take them. But taking those classes meant putting myself out there. Allowing others to read my work. Allowing others to pass judgment on what I wrote, and ultimately, pass judgment on me. There was no way that such a thing could ever be positive for me—not with the way I saw things. Not with the way others viewed my work.
I took Family Studies instead. I fell in love with psychology and the writing faded for me a bit. I put it away and focused on becoming a productive member of society.  I got married and had a baby. I grew up. Then I received another assignment: Write your life history.
Okay. I can do that. It’s based on fact, no imagination required. Nothing that could get me into trouble. Perfectly safe. I turned in my paper and that was that…
And then my professor said she wanted to speak with me. In her office. In Private. Holy shit. All I could think was that there was a 72-hour bed hold in my future at the county annex and I was still breastfeeding… not ideal.
Against my better judgment, I kept the meeting, ready to defend whatever it was that she found so off-putting about my writing. I sat in her office, stomach twisted in knots and sure enough, there it was--my paper. Covered in notes she’d written in the margins. Undoubtedly marking the place she found most upsetting. I waited for the white coats to jump out of her filing cabinet and take me away. And then she said something I’ll never forget:
“Have you ever thought of pursuing writing as a career?”
I stared at her like  snakes where falling out of her mouth but I shook my head no. No, I had not.
She gave me my paper and said, “Well, you should.” And then she gave me a letter of recommendation for a creative writing scholarship.
I took both and quickly left her office, unsure of what had just happened… had she actually suggested that my writing was good? I spent the next few days in a confused stupor. As impossible as it seemed, judgment had been passed and it had been favorable.
… I wish I could say that that one teacher’s praise had been enough to erase years of self-conditioning but it wasn’t. I threw the letter away and hid the paper in a box under my bed. But… every once in a while I took it out and read it. Read the notes of praise she’d written in the margins. Read the words I’d written about my life and I felt good. Good enough to start writing again. It took another ten years or so for me to find the courage to take my first creative writing class and a little while longer to finally believe that there was never anything wrong with the way I think. Nothing wrong with the things I feel. And nothing wrong with what I choose to put on paper.

got a plot problem? let me hear it:

Friday, June 1, 2012

Fiction Fridays

The thick stack of Jacksons on the bar told her two things. That the pink-shirt-wearing-Mexican-beer-drinking asshole didn’t know when to quit and that she was about three seconds away from being able to pay her electric bill on time for once. She looked up at her uncle which was a mistake because she went from bending to caving in the blink of one twinkly blue eye. Who needed light to see by, anyway? “Okay, okay—”
            “Hey, Sweet-tits—you gonna answer the question or stand there and jaw with Pops all night,” Pink Polo sneered at her and threw a drunken high-five at his friend.
            She felt her uncle stiffen, watched his hand squeeze the yard glass he held, hard enough to crack it. She laid a hand on his arm and smiled up at him. “Can I kick his ass now?”
            He dropped a kiss on top of her head and took the whiskey sour out of her hand. “Hurt ‘im, Mavie. Hurt ‘im real good.”

            That was all the encouragement she needed.

She leaned against the bar and stood on her tip toes to close the distance between her and Pink Polo. She put her face close, so close she could smell the bottled piss he called beer on his breath. She ran her fingertip along his jaw, urging him closer. His eyes dipped to her mouth and he smiled at her. Must’ve thought he won.
Fat fucking chance.
 “If your great-grandfather’s birthday is May twenty-second, nineteen o’two, then he was born on a… Thursday.” She winked at his friend, a frat boy in a Yankees cap and Puka shells—only slightly less drunk than Pink Polo. She lean back, dropped her feet flat on the floor and took the stack of cash with her, tapping the edge of the bills on the flat surface of the bar as she went.
            Pink Polo glared at her. “Is she right?”
            Yankees cap scrolled through the app on his iphone. “Hold on… wait—holy shit.” He looked up at her. “She’s right.”
The bar erupted into applause. Pink Polo reached for his pocket but she shook her head. “No more. I’m done for the night. Why don’t you and your friend have one on me, okay?” She pocketed the cash and slapped a couple of glasses on the bar and poured them each a finger of Jameson.
            Yankees cap downed his shot. “How the fuck do you do that?”
Pink Polo’s hand lashed out and clamped around her wrist. “She’s some sort of retard, that’s how,” he said. The bar went quiet. Shit.
            “You might wanna take a look at where you are, boys. This isn’t Vegas and you sure as hell ain’t swilling Martinis at Ghostbar. There’re no bouncers here to break it up before things get nasty… and trust me, they’re about to get real nasty.” She yanked her wrist free. “I think it’s time I call you that cab.”
            Pink Polo took a lunge at her but was yanked back and tossed out of his stool. Thad Jacobs. This night keeps getting better and better. The crowd around the bar took a giant step back and watched Pink Polo bounce off the scarred hardwood floor. He made some sort of noise that sound like, “fuckin’ Irish pig,” and that closed the crowd in fast.
            “He ain’t Irish—he’s a Jew, you Puka-shell-wearing piece of shit.” Quinn Galligan detached himself from the crowd.
            Holy Mary, Mother of God…