Take My Class?

Hello readers and subscribers. I’ve taught my first solo class about flash fiction on a platform called Skillshare. They reached out to me (!) and asked me to join the likes of the awesome Ashley Ford, Emily Gould, and more.

I’d love for you to join me on this adventure, take the class, and write your stories in the comment sections (by stating your own project there – you’ll see on the page, it’s very simple).

I’ve got a limited number of free enrollments I can give out, so check out the link below and sign up (as of posting this there are 18 free spots left):

http://skl.sh/1MC1Y5c

Sandra & Richard: character sketches

It was Sandra’s pleasure, on certain nights of the year when she had saved up a few extra dollars from her minimum-wage job as a security camera technician at a large office building, to put on her most expensive-looking blouse and the pants that clung tightly to her in ways that made her uncomfortable on other days, and take herself out to a bar, for a drink or three.

Richard was the bartender at her favorite place, a swanky watering hole for journalists, for which Sandra had a particular fondness that she was pretty certain had to do with an old television show she had watched as a child, sitting in her father’s lap, in which the backroom dealings between journalists and politicians was never overtly made clear and which had conveyed to Sandra a strange idea that journalists were at the end of the day people with integrity and a need to tell the truth. Richard knew Sandra from their days in grade school, though they hadn’t met again until she’d started coming to the bar. He pretended he didn’t know her, since she clearly didn’t recognize him. When he told her his name – he made it his practice to introduce himself to people who frequented the bar, since it usually increased his tip intake – she had looked him squarely in the eyes and had shaken his hand with vigor, hers more calloused than his though he was certain his were stronger, and had said it was a pleasure to meet him.

She hadn’t been aware of him in grade school either, but then again, those years had been her queen bee era. She had been popular, a great wit among her friends, and she had had the special ability to put people down and make them love her at the same time. Sandra didn’t think much about her childhood, because she had never come to really appreciate how magical her grade school days had been. They had always been a distraction, and a poor one at that, from a home in which her brother was both intellectually and physically disabled and required the vast majority of her parents’ attention as well as her own.

Richard was, to put it simply, in love with Sandra. He didn’t know her very well, not in the sense of understanding her dreams and ambitions or her fears and foibles. But he knew enough about her to recognize that she came into the bar with the same clothes every time, indicating a wardrobe lacking in the finery she yearned for. He knew enough to recognize in her a come-hither look that screamed of loneliness as well as a lack of trust, as she rarely agreed to go home with any of the men she talked to in his bar. Her instincts and her sense of self-preservation were keen, Richard decided, or else she would let herself be hurt over and over again. Instead, she kept a close watch on her heart and kept her mind tucked away in a safe place from which it could observe, judge, and make calculated decisions.

Sandra herself would never have imagined anyone was looking at her so hard. She couldn’t fathom anyone taking such an interest. And besides, she wasn’t at the bar to find someone like Richard – a minimum wage worker like herself. She yearned, not for glamour, not even for safety, but for a mindset so different from her own that it needn’t worry about paying rent, buying groceries, credit card debt racking up. She yearned for a carelessness of mind that would have the space to be wrapped up in her, her, only her.

Burden

When the ambulance sirens sounded, I turned over and put the pillow over my head. Normally I wouldn’t pay much attention, but I was scared I knew where they were coming from and the guilt was eating me up.

He said he would kill her. But he said it every day. Still, I probably should have told someone about how his eyes seemed to have fire in them when he said it this time. But who’d believe me, huh? Everyone here is threatening to murder someone. We’re all angry, all the time, and can you blame us? Living on less than minimum wage salaries, half of us not even knowing English real well, needing to raise our children in a place where they can see people shooting up on ever corner – wouldn’t you be angry?

I paid attention in school, though. I knew that talking a bit nicer would get me places. And that makes me angry also, because we all understand each other here, so why can’t the world try to understand us too? Why can’t they start talking like us, huh? Anyway, that doesn’t matter right not. That’s not the story I’m telling.

The story I’m trying to tell is about how those sirens woke me up and how I thought I knew that what he kept threatening had finally happened. But I didn’t know what to do about it. Someone had already called 911, right? So the cops would show up in a bit, and I wasn’t going to go talk to them and squeal right there in the open where everyone could see. Nah, people who do that end up dead all too quick. But I did need to know if what I thought was happening was actually happening.

I pulled on my sweats and a sweatshirt and checked to see that TJ was still sleeping on the couch. He’s my brother. The kids were asleep, too, and I knew that if one of them started crying, TJ would get up and go take care of them. He was good about that sort of thing. He liked being a good uncle to them when he remembered that there were things to life other than booze. Poor guy.

My face looked nasty without the makeup that I use to keep it fresh, but it was night and no one would see me. So I went downstairs, and walked to where I heard the sirens coming from. Just as I started though, they must have gotten to where they were going because they shut up. My heart was beating so quick that I can’t describe it. I knew where to walk even without the sound.

There were plenty of people outside of the apartment building. This area’s never empty, even at night. Some people live only after the sun goes to nap. Sure enough, I saw the medics sitting around and smoking, and I knew what that meant. That meant that they were waiting on the cops now, that there was someone dead in there and not dead cause of nice old age. Nah, there’d been a murder here.

I didn’t go too close. I didn’t want anybody to remember me. I wanted to wait for the cops in the shadows and tell them that I knew who did it. But I sure wasn’t going to tell them that I could have stopped it. That was my own burden to bear.

Life?

I’ve been bad. I knew it would happen, and here – it has. Neglect has set in once more. And I was doing so well! I was posting every day, in the morning, even while I was in Vancouver! Oh, well. So it goes. Life happens. I know I shouldn’t beat myself up about it (but, well, it’s me, so I’m going to – but I needn’t subject my readers to my self-flagellation!)

Back on my beautiful campus, the past three weeks have been a whirlwind of activity, moodiness, and more activity.  Here’s some of what I’ve been up to:

1) Classes:

-The Nineteenth Century Novel: for all you readers out there, doesn’t this sound exciting?! It is! The professor is perhaps the oldest on campus and gets tired rather quickly, but he has amazing insight and is still passionate about what we read. So far, we’ve read Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain and Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. Talk about incredible syllabus. I’ve also been reading Crime and Punishment by Dostoevsky for the independent-study portion of this class. I’ve yet to make up my mind as to whether I like it or not.

-The Talking Cure: my very first psych-course ever, this lecture is turning out to be fantastic. There’s a lot of intricate reading, but it’s fascinating. I’ve been spending a lot of my out-of-class time discussing what I’ve been learning in this class. This is one of the things I love about college – these kinds of conversations are fun and mutual.

-Writing Workshop: I’m writing short stories for the first time in my life. I’ve been known to post some lengthier things here, in installments, but none have ever been very satisfying to me. A couple had resolutions, sure, but mostly I seem to know how to end very short pieces with a punch. I’m not saying this is a bad thing, but it’s interesting to be in a class that is solely for the purpose of writing short stories: our teacher is a meticulous reader and reads every workshop submission twice which is why he won’t accept novels. The experience of writing a short story is interesting and, to me, vastly different than that of writing a novel.

2) Book club: Two friends and I have started a weekly meeting in one of the coziest spaces on our campus and we invite people to come and read with us. For fun. Because we all have lots and lots AND LOTS of reading for classes, but we all miss reading for pleasure. Our book club was started so that we would have prescribed weekly time to just read for fun. We’ve had two meetings so far, and it’s been extremely fun.

3) Drama: No, not the kind of drama you’re thinking of! Thank goodness. There is drama on campus, of course; it’s inevitable, in such a small school or, indeed, anywhere. But I’ve been making sure not to involve myself actively in any of it. No, the drama I mean is my acting-for-fun impulse. I’ve been in our weekly cabaret/sketch style show, and have also been chosen to play Frank N’ Furter in our shadowcast production of the Rocky Horror Picture Show that will be happening a couple days before Halloween. This is my dream role, and I can’t describe the absolute astonishment I felt for being picked out to play the wonderful character. Lots of fishnet tights are in my near future.

Alrighty. Now I’m kind of all caught up. I need to catch up with all my bloggy-friends’ blogs. I miss reading them, and I’ve been trying not to fall too far behind on anyone, but I’m probably failing miserably. I will do my very best to begin posting regularly again and not to be a stranger to y’all.

Happy Thursday!

Kiss Me [Flash fiction]

“Kiss me.

I want you to kiss me.

Do I get a kiss?

So what about a kiss?

How about a kiss?

Goddamn it!”

Shannon’s face screwed up and she put her fists over her eyes, blocking the view of her rapidly reddening face in the mirror. She breathed deeply, trying to calm down. She felt the blush recede slowly, and took her hands away, although her eyes were still closed. Puckering her mouth, she made a soft kissing noise and then uttered a loud “yech!” Turning away from the mirror she grabbed the phone off her bedside table and scrolled through the texts she’d received from Peter. They weren’t many of them, but they all seemed to indicate that he enjoyed the two evenings they’d spent together.

So why won’t you kiss me? she thought fiercely, trying to telepathically send him the question burned across the coils of her thoughts. She wasn’t obsessing. She’d been warned not to obsess again, not over another one. The past three men had been nothing, bodies that she remembered stretched naked in her bed, unappealing in the morning when the alcohol and excitement had worn off. But Peter was different. He and she had known each other for years, had worked together companionably at the factory. There was that one week when she’d been transferred to make up for a lack of employees in some other section, and it had been horrible, full of men trying to hit on her and women who looked at her tank top and low-slung jeans derisively.

Peter saw past that. He told her about his troubles at home and how his wife’s last miscarriage had been the final blow for them. He was a widower, and three dead babies hadn’t helped him emotionally. But Shannon thought that she might be helping. She wanted to see him in her bed from the first time they’d met, but, uncharacteristically, she’d never made a move, even when he and his wife were separated. She waited until the divorce papers went through, and still never hinted at her interest in him. Instead, she continued to date others, pretending that everything in her life was just the same as it had been.

But then, finally, he’d asked her out. And now he wouldn’t kiss her. Tonight was the third date, and she didn’t know if she should kiss him or not. She didn’t want to, though. After years of being the initiator, she thought that it was someone else’s turn this time. She threw her phone back on her narrow bed and strode over to the closet. The door creaked as she opened it. She pulled down one of the blankets from the top shelf, a blue and purple afghan, and flung it over the mirror. Then she picked up her toiletry bag and went to the shared bathroom in order to get ready for her date.

But all night, the two words that kept going around and around her mind, looping like a broken record, were ‘kiss me.’

Dorms, Interviews, People, and Stuff

I haven’t posted in over a week – could it even be two weeks? – and I feel bad about that. No, correction, I specifically feel bad about not having written for so long, as well as about not having read all of your posts. I find this an encouraging sign that I will (hopefully) be able to keep up my blog posting over the next few months while I’m at school.

I’m currently in my dorm room, which I share with one other girl. She’s lovely, although I don’t know her very well yet, and I feel quite optimistic about us continuing to live in harmony – this is rare for me, as I’m often quite the pessimist. My aunt pointed out something interesting to me this week – I’d gotten some news, and I immediately began to talk about all the things that were going to go wrong and how things would fail – my aunt, as I was saying, pointed out that whenever something happens, the story-telling part of my brain starts formulating what’s going to happen almost at once. True, the predictions I make are usually dark, but I’m trying to be a bit brighter and better. For instance, I’m truly trying to be in the moment while I’m here at college and not think about the stress that will come later.

At my school, registering for classes is a complicated business involving lots of running around (in the rain) to sign up at different professors’ doors. The students interview the teachers about the classes they’re teaching and then base their decision on that. I’ll update you all what my classes are once I know them for sure, but suffice it to say for now that I really-really-really hope I get into the ones I want.

I’ve been meeting lots of old friends from last year, and they’ve all given me lovely and warm welcomes, which makes me feel both fantastic (because they remember me and thought fondly of me while I was gone) and ashamed (because I honestly felt that nobody really liked me when I left school a year ago).

I suppose the point of this whole scattered post is that I’m seriously glad to be back, despite a lot of things which could really easily ruin it for me.

Osmond

Osmond sat in the back of the classroom and doodled on his notebook. The page was full of similar circles, spirals and crosshatching, and his eyes zoomed around, looking for a blank spot. The teacher at the front of the class was speaking, but to Osmond her voice was like white noise. He didn’t take heed of it even when it called his name sharply. He didn’t notice the ominous looks his fellow students were flashing him as they all turned in their seats. He didn’t even notice the teacher standing over him until he realized that his notebook was in a shadow that hadn’t been there before.

“Miss?” he raised his eyes, innocent as a lamb’s.

“Show me your notebook,” she demanded. Osmond turned to the page behind the doodles and handed the notebook to the teacher. She scanned it from top to bottom, and her eyes widened. Her mouth hung open a little and Osmond had to bite his lip in order to keep from smiling. Finally, after an eternity of students holding their breaths, the teacher slammed the notebook down on the desk without a word and began to talk briskly again, as if she’d never interrupted her lecture to yell at Osmond.

Making sure her back was to him, Osmond allowed himself a smile. He went back to his doodles. Every few minutes, in a flurry, he’d turn to the previous page and scribble furiously everything important that teacher had said. He’d then turn back to continue drawing. Nobody ever understood how he took in anything the teacher said when he was so clearly not listening, but somehow his notebook was one of the neater, better arranged ones in the classroom. When his friends asked him about it, he always waved it away, claiming he simply had a gift.

Little did he know that his gift, his strange concentration skills, would lead him to be recruited, at the age of thirty-five, to the most top-secret of the world’s intelligence corps.

 

A Monarch’s Responsibilities

History is a vast and incomprehensible mystery to me in many ways. We have facts about things that have happened in the past – we have dates, records of events, paintings reproducing the faces involved in those events, poems and diaries devoted to giving opinions and preserving what happened in a biased manner. We have all these things. Mystery, to some people, seems like a wide-open book, its contents there for us to look through, sift for what interests us, and indulge ourselves in knowledge of old.

I don’t feel this way. In my opinion, history is full of so much that we don’t know and so much that I wish I could know. True, we know when Martin Luther began to speak and write about his emotions about being a monk and part of the Catholic Church. In his instance, we can find quite a lot of emotional and sentimental writings from his own pen, or maybe quill, and we can see into his mind, as far as he lets us.

But what about others? What about the farmers and the spinners and the dye-makers that England had in such profusion in the sixteenth century? What were the children running barefoot through the streets of London, so much smaller than it is today, thinking? What games were they playing? What was the man smuggling illegal documents from Europe into the English Empire thinking as he worked? Was he scared for his life or merely waiting to get paid so he could go home to his wife and child? What were the nuns, sequestered in their cloisters, talking about? How did they speak to their young students, and how did they infuse them with a love and a belief for the divine? Through fear? Through love? Through simply offering worship as a fact of life?

And if these so-called simple people’s lives aren’t interesting enough for historians to dwell on – well then, what about the monarchs? How could Henry VIII hold such power in his hands and play with it so lightly at times? What did Katherine of Aragon feel as she was condemned? We can guess, surely, but how can we know? What of Elizabeth? How did she feel when she was sought after for marriage through the years? Did she decide on her own to remain a single ruler in order to maintain a stable throne? Did she, perhaps, not find men pleasing in the manner she would have been expected to? Had she fallen in love with someone who never returned her love or never could?

It’s bad enough, thinking of the power that politicians and governments hold today. At least it’s distributed power, and is more or less given by the people. But monarchs… They were born. Some of them believed they were chosen by divinity to be kings or queens. They held so much power in their cupped hands, that they’d let some of it run through their fingers to those sitting at their feet, just waiting for a pearl or jewel to drop from those mighty hands. I can’t imagine how such responsibility could be held without driving the holder mad with indecision, worry, guilt. Such are the things that the annals of history can’t reveal to us. Thoughts, emotions, private sighs of elation or grief.

A Thought On Writing

Although I’m writing about essay-writing in this particular instance, I’m pretty sure that this happens in creative writing as well.

There is a point, while writing something, when your brain simply goes numb. You catch yourself staring at the computer screen or at the notebook in front of you, and for a moment you’re almost sure that no thoughts have gone through your head for the past two minutes. Of course, if you think about it, you realize that you’ve been thinking the whole time, but not about anything profound or interesting – definitely not about what you’ve been writing. Rather, you’ve been thinking about your next meal, or the dress your friend just bought, or the trees with their pretty autumn leaves outside.

It’s a strange sensation – almost like your mind is betraying you, for once it gets to this point, it’s often really hard to get your mind to function properly once more. You may need, at this point, to get up and stretch and do something completely different. If you try to stare at the page for much longer, you’ll fall into despair and won’t manage, under any circumstances, to write something you’re pleased with. It’s a tricky situation, and one which I’ve been reaching over and over again in the past couple weeks.

The real problem is when you don’t let yourself take that break from whatever you’re writing. It’s a problem I repeat too much. I need to learn to listen to my brain, and when it tells me to stop and get up and do something else, I should do it, instead of sit and force myself to write for another half hour or hour or two or three. Having said that, I am, of course, going back to my extremely poorly written essay, even though my brain is going fuzzy. Alas, I must ignore my own conclusions for tonight.

My Desk

My desk is wooden, old and creaking. The drawers stumble and rattle when they’re opened and shut, like old wheezing men, protesting the exercise forced on them. The keyboard tray slumps down precariously when any weight is put on it, threatening to someday tumble to the floor.

The desktop itself is large and smooth, real wood or else a very good imitation. On the right there’s a small, square box of tissue, blue and reassuring. It’s a homely little thing, but comforting somehow in its ordinariness. Behind it is a pile of books – Sophocles, volume I and The Norton Anthology of Drama, volume I. Underneath them lie two large notebooks, one black and bearing the name of the college and the other a yellow Mead. Beside them lie a pair of black ballet shoes still in their box and a ball of dark purple yarn and a scarf-in-progress. Behind these, nestled against the wall, are DVDs and CDs, just a few, dearly beloved and not willing to be left behind.

In the middle of the desktop is yet another pile – a blue folder weighted down by a green Mead notebook lying underneath a recycled grey notebook. On top of all these lies a copy of Martin Luther’s Three Treatises, a train-ticket stub tucked at page 105 as a bookmark. A scrunchie lies abandoned between this pile and the large computer screen, along with an overflowing plastic box of paperclips, a pink set of Post-Its, a flashlight and a Scotch-tape dispenser.

Next to these, on the far left of the desk, is a small and cheerful pail with pins leaning against it [STITCH & BITCH and I LOVE HH] and in the pail are an assortment of black pens and brightly colored highlighters, as well as a pair of children’s scissors and an unsharpened pencil with a cheerful star-shaped eraser stuck to its end. Finally, in the left hand back corner of the desk is a black lamp, goose-neck poised in an odd position so as to cast the most advantageous light.

At 1:35AM, the objects on the desk are reassuring and homey, reminders that life can be comfortable, even if it’s only on a small four-by-two foot desk.