Wednesday, December 19, 2012


"Everything eventually unfolds..."
I have been happily exploring podcasts from Towards the end of a recent lunchtime practice, the podcast instructor guided me, her invisible student, through Figure Four. This pose is a challenge for me, as my hips are always tight, but I was inspired by the instructor's gentle encouragement: "Everything eventually unfolds."

As I focused on opening up in harmony with breath, I immediately latched on to a wisdom within these words.
Everything eventually unfolds.

I love the implication of the word "unfold." It suggests a moment of struggle, confusion, or discomfort. Why can't I touch my toes? Why don't I know all the "facts" about a certain situation?
Why aren't words filling this blank page in a satisfying way? Unfolding hints that these moments may eventually be followed with ease, enlightenment, or release.  Unfolding suggests patience. Not be confused with stagnant inactivity. Continue practicing. Keep stretching, seeking, writing. But don't force it.

A balled up piece of paper, carefully uncrumpling. An opening fist. The meticulous unfurling of a palm frond. Unfolding suggests measured purpose, inevitableness. Seasons ending and beginning again. Lives passing to the next stage. So many possibilities in a simple phrase.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Musings on Observing via DFW

"Fiction writers as a species tend to be oglers."
A true lurker, I snapped this photo of two strangers posing for another photographer's lens

My brother loaned me his copy of David Foster Wallace’s A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, and this is what I’ve been reading for the past month. This is the first work from DFW that I’ve read. The combination of being an extremely slow reader, and doing the majority of my recreational reading right before bedtime, has made this a drawn out process. 

I just started the third essay/argument, and I’m still on the fence about his writing. I think he was obviously wildly smart – probably one of those people too smart for their own good – and his brain may sometimes have got in the way of his ability to solidify his ideas for the reader.

But there have been glimmers throughout the pages. Like this quote from his “E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction” essay:

                                        Fiction writers as a species tend to be oglers. They tend to lurk and to stare. 
                                        They are born watchers. They are viewers. They are the ones on the subway 
                                        about whose nonchalant stares there is something creepy, somehow. 
                                        Almost predatory. This is because human situations are writers’ food. 
                                        Fiction writers watch other humans sort of the way gapers slow down for car wrecks: 
                                        they covet a vision of themselves as witnesses.

This is a nice reminder of a trait most of us would likely associate with creative types. I do enjoy observing people, but it seems to stem from an interest in human nature, rather than a concrete “I’m going to watch a bunch of strangers until I get an idea for my next story” goal (And of course we have to subtly spy, as our social grooming taught us that outright staring is rude/weird/creepy). But maybe the urge to observe stems from the same place that generates the urge to write?

In my experience, very rarely does observing lead directly to an immediate this-could-be-worth-writing-someday moment. More often the attention wanders to the next person, out the window, back to my own hands, and the observed detail wafts gently downstream. Falls soundlessly in line with the endless marching of thoughts, memories, hopes and anxieties parading around. And then much further down the road (perhaps while staring at the ceiling, thinking what to write next; maybe while folding laundry) something observed comes back to life – seemingly without any effort on my part, almost without recollection of having observed it in the first place. And it seems to fit perfectly with my character or the scene unfolding on my half-written page.

We notice the things meant for us...
I’m of the belief that we only notice the things meant for us. Not to imply that we should maintain a passive float through life (we could all stand to be more present, more observant), but if we imparted every detail around us with the utmost importance, it would be too overwhelming. However, what I love about photography – about bringing a camera with me on outings and trips – is that it forces me to open my eyes a little wider. I’m more on the lookout for moments, so I can capture them on film. Of course, you can’t force these things, and sometimes there are no pictures snapped.

Or I don’t have a camera on me, or it’s not practical to take a picture as the moment unfolds. On a bus in England, whizzing past a field where two people kiss on top of a large roll of hay. Walking behind an impeccably dressed old man, hunched with age, as he ducks below the trailing branches of a weeping willow. A yellow convertible pulls up in the next lane on a late summer afternoon, a wrinkled white bulldog leaning out the passenger side. Moments observed, saved to mind film, waiting to come back to life someday.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Monster Mash

In college, I took a fascinating course called Monsters: Imagining the Other.  We watched monster movies each week; read novels, as well as texts by philosophers, psychologists, theorists, etc.; and explored the cultural significance of monsters. Our amazing professor bound up each class members' required monster journals and papers, and this artifact has been with me since its creation in 2002. In the spirit of the season, I found my section in the class book and pulled out some sentences here and there to stitch together a Frankenstein of monster musings. Happy Halloween!
Once the pod people invaded the body of a human,
they retained the appearance and memories of the former individual
Invasion of the Body Snatchers was allegedly made to address the Communist paranoia of the 1950s. By studying the way people are drawn to invasion stories, it becomes evident that, even when removed from the issues of the Fifties, invasion stories play an important role in today’s culture. Not only do they help relieve modern concerns, they also tell us about the function of monsters in general.

Slippery anxieties find solid form in invasion films. Invasion of the Body Snatchers features pod people who suck emotions and individuality from their prey. Even if the monster shares the same appearance and actions as us, something dangerous may lurk beneath the surface. Fearing a Communist take over, some 1950s Americans worried they were next in line.

While Invasion of the Body Snatchers examines the nature of the “enemy,” Independence Day shows the country coming together in a time of crisis. A stripper rescues the First Lady, dissolving boundaries that separate social classes. Before the final fight with the aliens, the President addresses the crowd - urging everyone to forget differences in race, gender, status – and instead focus on saving the world. Indeed, the man who ends up destroying the Mother Ship is a drunk from a trailer park – not the typical hero we so often see in films.


In his monster theses, Jeffery Jerome Cohen
states that the monster can act as
"an alter alluring projection
of (an Other) self."
Fight Club can be considered a monster movie. In his monster theses, Jeffrey Jerome Cohen states that “every monster is…two living stories: one that describes how the monster came to be and another, its testimony, detailing what cultural use the monster serves” (13). Tyler Durden fulfills the Narrator’s psychological need, and carries a cultural message.

Tyler appears when the Narrator’s apartment explodes. The Narrator can no longer define himself with possessions and material objects.  “The monster’s body…incorporates fear, desire, anxiety, and fantasy, giving them life and an uncanny independence” (Cohen, 4). Tyler isn’t disgusted by living in a broken, dirty house with rusty running water. He doesn’t desire money or fear the corporate system. Tyler wears clothes the Narrator could never wear, is sexual in ways the Narrator never dared to be. Tyler doesn’t let others walk on him. He lives in the moment and acts to satisfy himself. As Tyler states, “All the ways you want to be…that’s me.”

"All the ways you want to be...that's me"
Although Tyler is created by the Narrator’s desperation to improve his life, Tyler serves as a cultural message board. This is also the role of the monster; they “demand a radical rethinking of boundary and normality” (6). Tyler’s message is simple: start thinking for yourself, stop surrounding yourself with meaningless items.

The power of Tyler’s cultural message is both liberating and frightening. Through Project Mayhem, the Narrator sees how impressionable society is. Instead of truly integrating Tyler’s lessons of independence, the members of Project Mayhem behave as if in a cult. They lose all ability to think for themselves, and eagerly await Tyler’s next orders. Instead of liberating others, Project Mayhem creates mindless drones. When something as strong as Tyler comes along, the weakness of the system is revealed, as it easily crumbles under his influence.

Although they share one body, Tyler and the Narrator are two personas. Tyler can do whatever he wants, since he exists outside society’s boundaries. The Narrator is the voice of reason, we often see him standing cautiously on the sidelines. Tyler asks us to look inside and see if we are truly happy. "Monsters ask us how we perceive the world, and how we have misrepresented what we have attempted to place. They ask us to reevaluate our cultural assumptions" (20).  The Narrator needed to realize that Tyler's ideals were a part of him, and that he could act upon them - without completely losing his voice of reason - when necessary.  At the end of the film, the Narrator symbolically shoots himself, and thus Tyler, who drops to the floor.

But Tyler isn't dead. He has been drawn back inside the Narrator's mind. He has been integrated. The Narrator has urges for both a domestic life and a life of revolution.  Two conflicting beings lie within him, making it hard for the viewer to ultimately separate one from the other. He won't easily fit into a category of "good" or "bad" because he is both. And this is a terrifying aspect of monsters - the realization that we all have similar capacities for both preservation and destruction.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Creating Possibilities

One of my main reasons for starting this blog was to hold myself accountable for writing on a more regular basis. Thanks to these posts, and an inspiring writing group that recently welcomed me into their midst, I returned to my Laura piece (excerpts found here and here) after a year of ignoring it within the depths of my writing desk. After polishing up some old bits and laboring over new sections, I felt comfortable enough with my work-in-progress to use Laura’s story to apply for a fellowship. Although I wasn’t selected, I did receive a nice email back stating that I was one of the top three finalists, and I received feedback specific to my submission.

Write, write, write to create more possibilites
Don’t get me wrong, this post is not about rejection. I want to focus instead on possibility. In a way, the best part of the experience was when I carefully handed the padded envelope containing my submission over to the post office clerk. It was a moment to pat myself on the back for getting my act together, meeting that application deadline in my planner. For sending my words out into the world for critique, judgment, and…possibly…award. Hearing the familiar grind of the mail truck turning the corner of our street every day. Walking up the driveway after the delivery, peering inside the murky mailbox. Hoping to find a promising-looking envelope inside. 
And since we live in a technology-driven world, there was also Inbox checking and email refreshing. 
Waiting for that message with the desired Subject line.

While I was in waiting mode, I started thinking about The Bell Jar. I remembered that Esther had applied for a summer class with “a famous writer” who would read her already submitted manuscript and decide if she was “good enough to be admitted into his class.” It’s been a while since I read the book cover to cover, but I could’ve sworn that even after she returned home from those last empty magazine days in “the dark heart of New York,” the possibility of acceptance into the writing class was the last glimmer of hope keeping her afloat for weeks, months, as she shared a lifeless house with her mother in the dull Boston suburbs.

As I skimmed through the book yesterday, I realized I hadn’t quite gotten the timeline right. She finds out about her rejection right after the train pulls into Boston, before she even sets foot in her house. Behind the wheel of the family car, her mother tosses some letters into Esther’s lap…

“I think I should tell you right away,” she said, and I could see bad news in the set of her neck, “you didn’t make that writing course.”

The air punched out of my stomach.

All through June the writing course had stretched before me like a bright, safe bridge…

Like I said, this isn’t meant to be a post about rejection. Yes, you’d have to be some kind of robot if rejection didn’t set off even the faintest siren of doubt in your mind; but isn’t the best feeling – maybe even better than actually winning – those moments in limbo, after you’ve set yourself up for consideration?

The only way to ride that high of writing possibility is to write lots, strive for more clarity in individual artistic expression, and send more submissions into the ether - all to create a multitude of “bright, safe bridges” to imagine walking over.

All quotations and italicized text in this post were taken from The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


"Breathe to the boundaries of your skin."
If we remain receptive, words alight from unexpected sources.

I just recently dipped a toe into the infinite waters known as yoga. Tested the ripples for the first time. This includes a misty, outdoor class to celebrate the Autumnal Equinox, with gentle drumming and Bug Light lighthouse as the backdrop, and a Restorative class.

During this Restorative class, the instructor asked us to “Breathe to the boundaries of your skin.” Instantly my mind latched on to this phrase. Filling with breath until you start to expand, the expansion creating an awareness of the skin holding you together. 

To the edge, into the edge. To the boundary, into the boundary. Skin as a boundary - not to imply limitation, but acceptance. Acknowledgement of the miniscule, which so often goes unrecognized. 
Feel your boundary coming close to another boundary.

Just another reminder that meaningful words are all around us. Evocative language can come from any source – be it a yoga class or a walk down a busy street. 

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Stevie's Syntax

Stevie Nicks. She seems to be an artist that people either fanatically love, or loudly dislike. No middle ground. I’m happy to report that I’m on the absolutely-adore-secretly-wish-I-could-be-her side.

When we lived in Boulder, Bart’s CD Cellar was on Pearl Street, and there were several vinyl records I would constantly check on to make sure they were still up for grabs. Time Fades Away by Neil Young was one. Bella Donna by Stevie Nicks was another. Always relieved to re-locate those perfectly faded cardboard sleeves, I wrestled with my wallet and the other stacks of must-have selections to decide if this was the day to finally bring them home. For whatever reason, some other records would win out. But I found comfort in the fact that I still had the option to own those coveted albums some fateful day in the future. After moving from Colorado to Maine – and since returning to Boulder a few times for work, only to discover that Bart’s doesn’t exist in the same capacity anymore – I’ve always regretted not buying those two albums when I had the chance.

So when I stumbled across Bella Donna in a record store a few weeks ago (with a whopping $2 price tag!), I walked it straight to the register.

After listening to it a few times, I started to think about “Leather and Lace.” Particularly the “Give to me your leather/Take from me…my lace” line. I love the simultaneous simplicity and implied complexity of the leather and lace dichotomy. But I think what makes this line stick with me, what gives it a little extra weight, is the syntax. In conversations, most people wouldn’t talk in the way this line is presented. You might say, “Give me your leather, and take my lace.” Which sounds much more casual and not nearly as meaningful.

Maybe poetry and song lyrics are better suited to the type of word arrangements found in the leather and lace phrase. Less of a need to form complete, more "traditional" sentences. When you hear words aloud, without seeing them written down, you are less aware of what goes where. Maybe it's easier to sing, enunciate, and breathe in the right spots when the words are arranged as “Give to me your leather/Take from me…my lace.” Maybe it's Stevie Nicks, who in my opinion can sing almost anything and make it sound good. But even without her voice attached to the phrase, under silent repetition, the words flow. Enough syllables for the internal tongue to skip along, natural places to pause. It just works.

In my writing, I often find myself getting hung up on the syntax. I find the most freedom to play with word order in stream of consciousness moments. It is such a delicate balance to arrange words in a purposeful, innovative, and attention catching way - without creating a mangled mess that no reader wants to wade through.

Until I write that perfect sentence, I’m glad I can now listen to “Leather and Lace” on vinyl whenever I want!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Stinging & The Shining

Isn’t it great when something happens, and it reminds you of a book? (OK, OK – or a TV show. Because everything in life can be traced back to The Simpsons or Seinfeld, right?)

When we moved into our house, my mom gave us a coconut shell wind chime as a housewarming gift. It hung innocently on the front porch for almost a year. In early summer, I noticed that wasps had moved into the concave top of the wind chime and into one of the dangling bamboo tubes. Each day, as I went out the front door to water the hanging plants, I peered into the wind chime to watch the progress of the hive. As the honeycombed network grew, I vaguely thought about knocking the nest down before it swelled into an unmanageable mess. But the wasps dutifully trundled across their geometric home without paying me any mind. So we struck up a peaceful co-existence.

You see where this is going, right?

Beady face with no discernable eyes, 
abdomen curled. 
A few weeks ago, during a routine watering, I reached into the tangled tendrils of  a hanging plant. Half-sensed a wavering insect body inside - and as the realization formed – a sudden pricking. Quick needle stab, instant throbbing. I was stung.

I don’t think I’ve ever been stung by a wasp before then. Even though I knew the one that got me was simply acting on pure instinct – protecting its queen and the nurturing hive – I felt betrayed by those winged workers. And as my hand swelled to the size of a latex glove filled with water, The Shining popped into my head.

Down to the basement to find our copy of the Stephen King classic (which we bought here, just to make things extra creepy). I flipped to the part about Jack getting stung while working on the roof. Detonating the poison bomb to kill the wasp nest, then giving the now harmless nest to a delighted Danny – despite Wendy’s reservations. Even though it had been years since I’d last read the book, 
I remembered  the wasp nest coming alive in Danny’s room in the middle of the night. 
I eagerly re-read the scene, wondering if my new sting would lend greater intensity to the words.

Putting Danny to bed, Wendy is shaken by the nest in her son’s room. “She didn’t like the idea of that thing, constructed from the chewings and saliva of so many alien creatures…”

After Danny’s episode in the bathroom – where he sees Tony “way down deep” in the mirror – Danny settles into bed with his Snoopy night light, slips into a nightmare, then wakes with a start:

Something on one hand. Crawling.
Wasps. Three of them.

They stung him then, seeming to needle all at once…

After Jack and Wendy rush in and realize what all the shrieking and thrashing is about, I love the description of the wasps as “lumbering” creatures that “rise into the air, droning.”

Jack eventually goes back to Danny’s room to dispose of the pests. The should-be dead nest is inexplicably crawling with wasps. He takes the nest outside, where the 25 degree night chill will surely kill them once and for all. Comes back in and locks the door standing between him and nest, just in case.

Suddenly the hotel seemed full of a thousand stealthy sounds: creakings and groans
and the sly sniff of the wind under the eaves where
more wasps’ nests might be hanging like deadly fruit.

                They had come back.

I swear, I’m normally not freaked out by bugs or insects. But that night after my sting, puffy hand still pulsing and tucked between my pillows, moonlight extra bright and throwing unfamiliar shadows across the room, curtains billowing out from the open windows – my mind started to race. The air whirred with a constant hum. Maybe it was the fan at the foot of the bed. Maybe it was the de-humidifier outside the bedroom door. Maybe it was a cloud of wasps hovering by the ceiling. Beady faces with no discernable eyes, abdomens quivering. Ready to strike.

In the light of day, my momentary panic was silly. I spent a few days obsessively scouring the Internet, looking up tips on how to de-wasp a front porch. Tiptoed outside the door to water plants. Jumped out of my skin each time something whizzed by me. Started to recover my wits as the week passed, learning that wasps are actually beneficial to gardens and help keep away other pests.

Last night, I opened the door to our supply closet and discovered an unexpected guest inside. A live wasp. Clinging to the pile of cleaning rags. Its angular, black and yellow body curled tight against the white fabric.

All quotations and italicized text in this post were taken from The Shining by Stephen King.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Laura #2

The following is an excerpt from a work in progress by Fiona Clifford

Driving to the hospital, Laura and Fred didn’t have a name picked out for the baby. After the birth, someone eased the slippery, screaming bundle onto her chest. Fred’s face hovered into view, his voice excitedly informing her that the bundle was actually a girl. Maybe it was the drugs, but Laura had a vision of her baby girl as a bird. Swooping and dipping across a late afternoon sky. Fading to a speck, flying off to a place where it was always warm.
Laura had a vision of her baby girl swooping and dipping across the sky. 
Fading to a speck.
                  When the vision cleared, Laura returned to her sweaty, disheveled place in the delivery room. Fred still waiting for the name. So she named their daughter Wren.
                  Before Wren’s arrival, there were no arguments over what to name the baby. Fred simply washed his hands of the task. Listen, he liked to say. I’ve lived for 32 years as a Fred. Every last scrap of originality has been forced out of me. You pick the name. I know I’ll only pick the wrong one.
                  But each time Laura picked up the Name Your Baby book, the lines of neatly alphabetized options made her eyes cross.
                  Anxiety for the impending delivery swelled in proportion with her belly. Midwife Janie suggested finding a nice image. A Caribbean destination ripped from a travel magazine. A postcard. “Whenever you start in on those old fears,” Janie soothed, “take out the picture and meditate. You know, really feel yourself there. If you can train your mind to relax in the face of imminent pain, it will be that much easier to access your haven during the delivery. Create the haven in the picture within yourself.”
                  Janie, with her easy smile and welcoming face, looked as if she had never spent a single minute worrying about what would happen next.
                  Laura went home and heaved open the closet door anyway, one hand resting on her baby bump as she pulled down shoeboxes of mementos. Cardboard seams worn through, half-contained photos sliding against each other. Eager to be seen again. She found a photo of the beach with a misty quality, as if the photographer held a piece of gauze before the lens. A diminishing row of summer homes rose from spiked dune grass, their west-facing windows holding the fiery reflection of sunset.
                  Laura examined the beach picture, yet couldn’t remember taking it. She walked to the living room, where Fred muttered to himself over a crossword.
                  “Hey Fred,” she said, still trying to match a location to the photo. When Fred made no reply she glanced up. “Fred?” She moved over to stand by the arm of his chair, watching as he erased an answer – ASP – then carefully wrote it again. The sharp peak of his A, each letter perfectly centered within the puzzle’s white boxes. She touched his shoulder and he jumped, breaking his pencil in surprise.
                  “My God, Laura, you scared me. What’s the matter?”
                  “Nothing.” Maybe she shouldn’t bother showing him the photo. “Look what I found. Wouldn’t you just love to live by the ocean like this?”
                  Fred plucked the picture from her fingers, studied it briefly, then passed it back with a watery smile. “You know I can’t handle too much sun. And I love it here. I love you here. I could never leave this.”
                  Oh well, she thought, propping the photo against the lamp on her side of the bed. While Fred brushed his teeth, Laura braced against a dull wave of nausea. The sweeping flush of heat contrasted with the clammy line of sweat along her hairline. She waited for the twinge to bloom into a mountain of pain. Rolled onto her side and forced herself to walk into the beach picture. Into a scene where the sunset still held enough strength to color the world. Laura stretched out carefully across the sand, absorbing its comforting grains. Tides exhaled beyond the blank canvas of her closed eyes.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Inspiration from 8 1/2

Watch 8 1/2 on a late summer Sunday evening

I realize I’m very late to the party on this, but I recently watched the film 8 ½ for the first time. Haunting black and white images, tinged with longing. Boundaries blurred between memory and unfolding reality. Seamless transitions between fantasy, recollections, 
and the inevitable near-conclusions of a weary womanizer/director’s life decisions. Comical touches woven throughout that keep the tone from being too self-important. This film contains many gems for any person involved in the creative process, and below are two favorite quotes that I jotted down while reading the subtitles across the bottom of the screen.

“We’re smothered by images, words and sounds that have no right to exist, coming from, and bound for, nothingness…Our true mission is sweeping away the thousands of miscarriages that everyday, obscenely, try to come to light.”
I think creative people are wired to look at the world through the lens of whatever project is bubbling away on the back burner. Listening to a couple argue on the subway and storing the scene away into a mental jar. I know I can use this later, but how? We are all capable of pricking up our ears and staying alert for random acts unfolding around us. The real talent comes in being able to realize that maybe there is no creative use for a particular incident. Learning to understand what best suits our artistic intention. What should come into the light, and what needs to stay behind.

Image Source
“How do you benefit from stringing together the tattered pieces of your life? Your vague memories, the faces of people you were never able to love?”
How do we “string together” the bits of personal experiences, the fleeting vision from a daydream, the hinted at life of a stranger, the lingering mood from the just-finished book, into a comprehensive whole that gives even the slightest hint at what we so desperately wanted to portray? 

I remember being in kindergarten and wanting to draw a delicate Monarch butterfly perched on a flower. When I tried to translate my imagination into a crayon drawing, I was so disappointed because it hardly resembled what I saw in my head.

One thing to remember is that even if an idea is based on a real life event, I’m not bound to put down every miniscule detail that surrounded it. That’s the beauty of creatively re-purposing. I can change the truth – make it more extreme, heighten the intensity, bend the rules. OK, this idea doesn’t work for this character. No worries. I can lift it right out of this piece entirely and plop it into the life of another character who occupies a much different space. In the end, only the smallest speck of a detail may still be “true,” but if that speck had enough power to evolve into something bigger, unplanned, unexpected – all the better.

In 8 ½, we don’t need to see a finished film from Guido. It is enough to understand what he is trying to do, to watch the floating memories collide with the current cast of characters in his life. The incompleteness, the process is what intrigues. The ever-shifting barrage of muses and stimuli provides enough substance for us to grasp onto. Enough mystery to remain curious, enough familiarity to turn inward and question our own artistic goals. The whirling kaleidoscope of our own crazy lives.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Laura #1

The following excerpt is from a work in progress by Fiona Clifford
She was accustomed to living in a dull silence with Fred - 
feeling him creep through the house. There was an unfamiliar 
hush to the apartment. The blank face of walls.

Fred was gone, and Wren was too young to ask questions. Laura found an apartment right away. A little more than she wanted to pay, but it had a dishwasher. Remembering Fred towards the end, standing before their old sink. In slippers with the heels torn away, a stained shirt she’d tried to coax him out of for days. Washing the same dish over and over. Never dunking it in suds. Just constantly smoothing porcelain with a rag, eyes trained on the kitchen window. Smoothing the dish in precise circles, like  a genie’s lamp with one last wish. Or a worry stone to lock secrets into.

There was no window above the sink in the new kitchen. So Laura scraped her single dinner plate, rinsed bottles, and loaded the dishwasher with the blank face of whitewashed walls staring back. She was accustomed to living in a dull silence those last few months with Fred – speaking to him in gentle tones, feeling him creep across the house. There was an unfamiliar hush to the apartment. She stepped among moving boxes, re-arranging them into a better path rather than commit to unpacking. Grateful that Wren couldn’t talk yet, relieved that she had a chance to perfect the story of Fred’s absence. Time to decide what details to leave in, which ones to discard.
Alternatively, she looked at Wren’s burbling mouth and willed her to speak real words. Something to break the spell of newness that the apartment, the city, had cast on them.
After Fred, Laura tried to stick around. Then she overhead her mother-in-law on the phone. Laura had gone over to sort through Fred’s old boxes. Everything he abandoned on his way to college. “Why don’t we run off?” Laura asked after they married. “To a place where the whole damn town doesn’t know your name.” No, he couldn’t bear to leave. The boxes in his mother’s cobwebbed basement had hooks in him. A safety net he always needed within reach.
                  Laura called Fred’s mother about coming over. “Just let yourself in, dear,” Judy instructed. “Don’t ring the bell, I’ll be napping. I’m so tired these days. Go on down and take whatever you want. I can’t stand thinking about it anymore.”
                  So Laura eased the door open, just wide enough to slip inside. Careful not to create any tell-tale rattles or creaks. With any luck she’d haul the boxes up the stairs, pack them into the truck, drive home, and watch them burn in the backyard bonfire pit within an hour. All without speaking a single word to Judy.
Judy's kitchen was a relic to Fred's boyhood.
A dense cabbage smell pricked the nose.
                  The kitchen was a relic from Fred’s boyhood. Cracked linoleum curling in the corners. The yellow wallpaper with its odd nautical pattern. A battered kettle on the burner. Dense smell of cabbage pricking the nostrils.
                  Once inside, Laura quickened her pace. Avoid the meticulously arranged knick knacks and the endless tunnel of hours they spoke of. One hand on the basement doorknob, sensing the spiders and silent mold. She listened for sounds from the bedroom. Judy was in the living room. Murmurs of agreement, clatter of cup against saucer.
                  The jig was up. Better go in and say hello. She took a few reluctant steps, then stopped, realizing that Judy was on the phone.
                  “It’s a tragedy, Phyllis. Freddie was such a happy soul. Marrying that woman wore him down. I don’t know what she did to my boy.”
                  Laura opened her mouth, closed it wordlessly. A dying fish. She contemplated her next move. Maybe march into the living room and enjoy the twisted shock on Judy’s face as she realized what Laura overheard. Rip the phone from Judy to let Phyllis know about the time Fred locked himself in the bathroom after his French toast came out soggy. Or his compulsive need to sweep the driveway. Running the broom back and forth, back and forth. For hours. Bristles rasping until the invisible specks of dirt were removed. Did you know, Phyllis, that during the last month, he taped newspaper over the mirrors in the house? Because the sight of his own reflection made him too damn anxious. I mean Phyllis, if you’re going to flap your lips, you might as well talk about it all.
                  But Judy went on talking, unaware of Laura. Silently cursing, Laura put one foot behind the other and stepped backwards across the kitchen. Bumped into the kitchen table. A vase of plastic flowers wobbled, stayed upright. Her hand found the front door. Only then did Laura dare turn her back on the living room. Almost free. Out the door, down the steps. The same ones Fred used to pry weeds from to earn allowance. Laura fished her keys from her pocket, but shook so much they hit the ground with a useless clink. Stay calm, just pick them up. Once in hand, she ran to the truck, the sting of the key’s teeth against her palm pushing her on.
                  Laura jerked the truck into gear, stomped on the gas, and with crushed grass and mud flying, she was gone. Remembered Wren at home with the babysitter. That’s it, she thought. We are out of this fucking town. White knuckled, teeth grit in determination, she barely noticed a woman and a little girl crossing the street.
                  Tires squealed as the truck swung wide at the last minute. The woman snatched the girl up in a fluid motion, running for the safety of the sidewalk. Laura glanced in the rearview. The girl had dropped an ice cream in the sudden burst of action. She pointed at it smashed in the middle of the road, face pinched in tears. Still clutching the girl tightly, the woman screamed at the tail end of Laura’s truck.

                  Laura exhaled in a long whoosh. A sudden mantra rose up in her mind, and she latched on, reciting it the rest of the way home. Stupid bitch, stupid bitch, stupid bitch…

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Past & Present

I’m currently working on a piece about a woman named Laura. Attempting to shut the door on the absence of her husband Fred, and the ever-present circumstances of his departure, Laura moves into an apartment with her daughter Wren. Laura vaguely senses a certain familiarity stirring within her daughter. Caught between obsessing over Wren’s upbringing, the growing claustrophobia of being sandwiched between the hidden lives of apartment tenants, and a man who appears from 
the fringes of the property, Laura struggles to bring stability to their lives.

Believe it or not, I’ve been good about setting aside an hour or so after work to tinker away at Laura’s story. So I don’t jinx the flow, I’m going to keep Laura on my laptop and typewriter for now 
(Weird – right after I typed that sentence, I opened a Magic Hat and the message on the bottle cap was “Get Jinxed”).

Despite the suggestion of my beer, I’m going to travel back to the 5th grade. My mom recently moved, and in helping her go through piles of boxes, I re-discovered lots of crazy stuff. Including a typed (as in typewriter) copy of the anthology that the Enrichment program associated with my school put together. Sitting there at the bottom of page 15 was this little ditty of a poem I wrote about my home state:


Black-capped chickadees chirp
in evergreen branches of pine,
Golden potatoes grow
in blueberry-scented air,
Children play in salty Atlantic breakers
sparkling in the sun
As beautiful as
a gem

Fiona Clifford
Grade 5

OK – so the title is a little uninspired (coming up with titles has never been my strong point), and the last four lines are pretty cheesy, but I like “black-capped chickadees.”

As the search through musty boxes continued, I found a laminated booklet of poems that I wrote and illustrated when I was 12 (The “About the Author” section I wrote on blue-lined notebook paper and pasted in the back clued me into how old I was). I’m not sure if this was part of a school assignment, or something I did just for the heck of it. But lo and behold, the third poem from the end was my Maine poem. Even back then I liked to recycle my work!

I originally wrote this poem in the 5th grade, then used it again a year or so later when creating the above page for a homemade poetry collection. Don’t be alarmed – the dimpled brown lumps floating in my Maine illustration are supposed to be potatoes. The dark brown blob is a pine cone. Even better is this “About the Author” write-up that I included at the back: Fiona A. Clifford loves to write. She was born on October 31 and is 12 years old. Already two of her poems have been published.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Welcome... my experiment. In blog-form. Here’s a bit of back story. Riley and I were lucky enough to have his father and sister visit us in July. His dad and sister were sitting at our living room table. Looking through pictures on the computer, if I remember correctly. I walked in from another room and happened to catch one of them say the phrase “shadow of a coffee cup.” I have no idea what they were talking about, but this combination of words struck me. Shadow of a Coffee Cup. Wistful, an everyday object that catches the light in a certain way one morning and reminds you of something from the past.

This leads into my purpose for starting a blog. A place to explore overheard and stumbled upon scraps of inspiration – a one-sided conversation from the street, a news story, a magazine ad – with the potential for further creative development. Growing up, I had many notebooks dedicated to stories (even as a kid, I don’t think I ever actually “finished” anything), and now as a “grown-up” with a full-time job, there are too many easy excuses for pushing my writing off until tomorrow. I’m hoping a blog will keep the creative juices flowing, get me back into the habit of writing more regularly, and allow for a healthy dose of shameless self-promotion. Not to mention that my old notebooks and school papers are collecting dust, and it might be fun to drag some of those blasts from the past into daylight.

So, welcome to the inner workings of my weird little mind. Fancy meeting you here!