Monday, December 5, 2011

Christmas is here, bringing good cheer

In years past I've lamented Christmas as a college student. I don't own any decorations and am too poor to buy any. I am craft-illiterate and refuse to taint Christmas by making then hanging severely mangled homemade Christmas decorations. I ring in the month of Christmas with end-of-semester papers and projects followed closely by final exams, and then I jump at the opportunity to work full-time the rest of the month to get a few dollars ahead. I'm not big on listening to Christmas music all of the time (don't lynch me, I like it, just not on those 24/7 radio stations), and I'm not exactly admiring neighbors decorations because I live in a mainly student populated apartment complex. I celebrate Christmas for a few days with my family, whether in Utah or in Washington, and then it's back for a few more days of full-time work before I start the new semester slog all over again. Like I said, this has been the rinse and repeat Christmas pattern for the past few years I've been in college.

I think of Christmas at home with ungodly amounts of cookies, decorations strewn throughout the house, and a Douglas fir filling the living room with needles, its sheer size, and best of all - its smell. All of our hodge podge ornaments are placed conscientiously on the tree to fill up as much space as possible. It used to be easy but as all of the kids get married, one by one, they take their ornaments and the tree looks a little more sparse every year (I am secretly pleased because then I get to put all of my ornaments front and center). One of the radios in the kitchen is tuned to one of those radio stations playing Christmas music 24/7 starting right after Thanksgiving and for some reason, it's not so bad when it's at home. Slowly, presents start congregating under the tree and even though it's never too many, it also looks perfect and full on the old tree skirt that has the 12 Days of Christmas  embroidered around it. Stockings are laid out on the fireplace and the white tree advent calendar that never has any candy in it is hung above the railing on the stairs.

On December 1st, something just felt kind of different about Christmas this year, and yet everything seems the same. If anything, it's kind of worse. My apartment is even less decorated than before, I have to work even more, and be with family even less. Regardless, I can't put my finger on it, but something is different. Maybe it's because I started out the month with family, and can now bear the next two weeks of wrapping up classes before I get to see them again. Maybe it was the office decorations I see everyday that are really quite impressive. Maybe it's because I heard my first Christmas song in a commercial last week and even though I don't remember the song or the product (it was not the Victoria's Secret ad, but I have to admit: Carol of the Bells is my favorite Christmas song), it made me so happy my eyes thought someone was chopping onions in my room. Maybe it's because I know there won't be much else this Christmas besides service and family, but I finally figured out that's all I need. Or maybe it really only hit just tonight, after we went caroling to some people that may or may not have needed to know that there was a haphazardly formed group of their peers that have found some common ground every Monday night, that miss them when they don't come. Whatever the reason for my attitude this season, it's refreshing.

This is without a doubt the way Carol of the Bells is supposed to be sung. I love a multitude of variations and arrangments but as far as classic, perfect interpretation, this is it.

Monday, October 17, 2011

What is success?

I've been perusing two folders I have on my laptop hard drive, one created after I had already forgotten about the first. "Blog" and "Writing" are both in my "Work" folder, in a feeble attempt to put my dreams into some sort of action. Neither folder contains many documents. A few I could delete because they really did end up on this blog in some form or another, which I'm pleased about. One I wrote when I was incredibly depressed and I must say it is incredibly good. It will probably never find a place to be displayed for other's admiration for fear of it's implications of my mental health (despite the fact that it's been over a year since writing it.) One I just wrote because I realized I need to write every day and I tried to relax and I couldn't stop thinking about everything and I had read two articles today about relaxing so what should that say to me? In the "Blog" folder I also found a draft of the first ever post I put on this blog. The draft had absolutely nothing to do with the version that ended up being the inaugural post on this blog, but it certainly got me thinking tonight.

When I was 12 a church leader read this poem to my class one Sunday and I have never stopped identifying it as most likely my favorite poem. I was supposed to learn about Ralph Waldo Emerson in one of the classes I've already taken as an English major but either I never actually learned anything or I already forgot it (the curse of being forced to obtain knowledge as opposed to the sponge I can be when I get to learn on my own time.)

What is success?

To laugh often and much
To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children
To earn the approval of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends
To appreciate beauty
To find the best in others
To give of one's self
To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition
To have laughed and played with enthusiasm and sung with exultation
To know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived
This is to have succeeded.

Forgive me if I've blogged about this before, I really can't remember and lack the patience to search through all of my old posts to find this poem. I've been contemplating attempting to get a Master of Fine Arts degree in Creative Non-Fiction (i.e. the genre I'm writing this blog in, e.g. memoirs, personal essay, etc.) There are so many variables, I started to type them out here and realized my own brain doesn't even want to deal with these issues so it pushes them in the back of my mind. More than anything, I wish I could ask my current creative non-fiction professor "Am I good enough? Will I get accepted by a school with faculty I will love and write like and then get published as I teach other students this craft, preferably at a college in the Pacific Northwest?" I doubt he would give me answers, let alone the ones I wanted to hear.

And in the end, does it matter? I define my personal success now as praise from my current workshop class and acceptance into an MFA program and being published somewhere, somehow. But Ralph tells me that's a pretty crappy yardstick. Underneath my constantly reeling brain and ever-bleeding heart, I think I'm inclined to agree, but I often forget (so much that I question my belief in his measurement system at all.) But then there's  this blog post, that I'm actually really pleased with. And the wonderful comments I get from family and friends (maybe not the most critical judges, but they sure do help my self-esteem) on so many of these posts. And the tingling, giggling feeling I get when I read incredible essays assigned for my class. It's an odd rising feeling starts just below my sternum and pulses through my clavicle and esophagus, and hovers behind my eyes in a mist that never comes out of my tear ducts (for which I am grateful) that manifests to me that I really want to do this, more than I've wanted to do anything before. That's not to discredit my absolute passion for crime-solving or firefighting as a (younger) child, or my dream of directing a high school band that disintegrated a few short years ago. It's a different kind of manifestation that includes a nugget of hope that I'm not as bad at this as the dementor-like specter would have me believe. It usually sits just inside my left ear and starts sucking out my confidence immediately after I hand in an essay for my workshop class to critique.

I've achieved a lot of the points on Mr. Emerson's list, and I'm still just a baby, so I think I'm doing pretty good, all things considered. Sometimes it's hard to remember that. Someone said this to me once and I love it for it's impeccable attention to the detailed connotations within words we use. I try hard to follow it always: follow your bliss.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

A letter to and from Brian Doyle

So a) check this guy out, Brian Doyle. He's awesome and he has published a ton of awesome pieces but "A Sin" is recent and was near the top of my Google search so that's why it's linked here. I wholeheartedly recommend his most recent book Grace Notes, which I just had to read for my class. When he came to my class last Thursday to be interviewed by my classmates and me, I asked him about his lack of Wikipedia page, so don't try looking there because none of those Brian Doyle's are him.

b) I went to his reading, open to the whole campus, on Friday afternoon and since I had one of his books, I stood in line afterwards and got him to sign it. I shook his hand and said thanks for the reading, and that I had 15 minutes in line to think of something intelligent and failed. He laughed and said he should've done the same thing (thought of something intelligent to say) and then wished me well and I left.

c) I was really bothered by this exchange and he had already admitted to the auditorium that he responds to every single e-mail or letter he receives so I went back to my office and wrote him the following letter, and his reply follows that. Enjoy.

From: Laurie
To: Brian Doyle
Subject: You just signed my book at BYU . . . 

I stood in line thinking of something to say for 15 minutes and came up with something, but when I finally got to hand you my book, I got too nervous. In hindsight, I've decided that what I came up with is kind of a nice thing to say about someone and his or her writing, so I think it's worth an e-mail. Sorry for giving you more letters to wade through.

I love reading your writing because you're such an optimist and I'm such a cynic, and I feel healthier after I read your words. Thank you for that respite from myself.

To: Laurie
From: Brian Doyle
Subject: RE: You just signed my book at BYU . . . 

Aw, that is the kindest gentlest loveliest note I have had for a long time. Thank you, Laurie. I savor the youness of you. Brian 

Don't worry, I got/get misty-eyed when I read/read it.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Of smells

Every few weeks in my "Writing Creative Non-Fiction" class, we have to submit a 500-1000 word "experiment" with a prompt given to us by the professor. This prompt was to find an essay by Michel Montaigne, use the title and quote a line from the essay somewhere within our own piece.

Although Montaigne wrote over 400 years before I even picked up a pen, I find a kindred spirit as I read his essays. No one can commiserate with me as well as one who “scent[s] at a greater distance . . . than other men.” Rank or sweet, I can pick out a scent sooner than most. While Montaigne focused on the perfumed versus the natural, I can only think of the time and place and feeling associated with every smell my olfaction registers, regardless of the pleasure or displeasure of the fragrance.

When my nose runs away with my imagination, I pretend my acute sense of smell is strong enough for a diagnosis of hyperosmia. It must be unnatural that when that woman passes me on the street and I can detect her Estée Lauder perfume, I think of my mother and I am there, in her room at six years old. She is wearing a salmon jacket and putting on makeup. Her jewelry box is open on her dresser and next she will put on her earrings that look like long, green leaves that match her skirt. We are getting ready to go to church on Sunday morning and I am lying on her bed, watching her in the mirror just so I can be with her longer.

Maybe the doctors will believe my self-diagnosis of a hyper smelling ability when I prove that I can smell the adolescent body spray on the teenager all the way across the room. I am walking down the halls of my high school, shy but pleased to be holding hands with someone. It is an aroma mixed with guilt, for dodging and sneaking and thinking that I am smarter than any adult in my life.

When my IV line is flushed with saline solution after my medical treatments and I taste it in my mouth and feel it in my eyes and smell it as though it were being spritzed in my face, then I think maybe I have a special sense of smell. And the whole hospital room is the same as my 17th spring, when I couldn’t speak or walk because I was tired and ill and something was wrong but no one knew what. The smells of disinfectant and bed pans and paper bed sheets remove me from the present and take me back a number of years in an instant, with one inhalation.

Perhaps my strongest piece of evidence is returning home, only once or twice a year. As I step into my parent’s home I smell something unidentifiable. It is the dog in the laundry room, it is the detergent in the dish washer, it is the freshly vacuumed carpet. It is my father’s aftershave and my mother’s casseroles and my stuffed dog that I slept with every night. It can’t even be categorized as a pleasant odor but it is pleasant in its associations. It is home and it is family and it is make-believe proof that I have hyperosmia, when I know that I don’t. I just happen to have an acute sense of smell.

Monday, July 25, 2011

On Harry Potter

I have known that I physically need to write a post on my feelings about Harry Potter for a long time. I have a draft of it, sitting out on the internet, but I was just never satisfied with it. I have no idea where to begin to express Harry and me, or even Joanne and me. Having since written and re-read this entry, I find it inadequate as well, but it does a little better than my other draft.

My fifth grade teacher read Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets to my class. I borrowed Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone from my neighborhood friend after Mrs. Zachrison finished reading in class, so I was caught up on all the details of Harry's life. During all of this, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban had come out, so I borrowed that from my same neighborhood friend and was now in the same wonderful place as every person cooler than me who had heard about the series before I did. I ordered the next three books (four through six) online so I wouldn't have to do the midnight thing but would get them that day. When I was packing for college, I thought the first six books of the series would be really important to have with me, so I packed them and gave them a shelf in my limited dorm space. I re-read them all in preparation for the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I went to the midnight book release on BYU campus with friends (dressed as a muggle) and read the whole thing that night, before my test the next morning at 10am.

During all of this the movies came out. I couldn't submit to that kind of slaughter of my favorite characters in my favorite world. As the release of the final installment of the movies was drawing near, I was invited to go with some friends and I had to admit I'd never seen a single movie. I watched all 7 in three days, then the last movie in theaters, at midnight, on the fourth day. It had been so long since I had read all of the books that I was detached enough from the movies to not be too offended by what parts of the stories were changed or left out. (except for the third movie . . . I find that movie truly offensive. So much was changed without reason! Arg!) I enjoyed the last movie but I realized it was probably more because I had only read the seventh book once and didn't remember many details. So, I read seven Harry Potter books in seven days to get back in touch with my roots.

It was interesting reading them as an English and editing student. J.K. Rowling uses more adverbs than anyone alive, I think. Her favorites seem to be shrilly and darkly. She was purposefully wordy at some parts. From any other author, in any other series, these two things alone would have driven me berserk. But it doesn't really matter to me, because I fell in love with these books long before I learned that adverbs are taboo and being wordy doesn't make you sound smart. I was trying to classify my passion for Harry Potter, as if I had to explain it to an outside observer. I wouldn't say I'm obsessed; I don't own Harry Potter paraphernalia, I've never dressed up as a Harry Potter character. I did have some wizard duels in 6th grade, and I'm sure I donned a robe to go to a themed party. So how do I convince someone that I'm a true fan, without all of these other outward expressions?

The best way I can think to describe it is like a pure love. Simple, unadulterated, pure. I hope in my life I can do something just as selfless and noble and loving as Harry or Hermione or Ron or Albus or Neville or any of the characters (Sirius, Severus, Lily, James, the list is as long as the books). Juvenile literature gets knocked because they make the good guys so good, but isn't that a glimpse of how wonderful the world could be if we tried to emulate our literary heroes? I don't remember clinging to these books in times of trouble in my youth, I know some people have stories about Hogwarts saving their lives because they were so alone and in such a dark place. I just loved them because they were so wonderful. Is that a good enough reason? Does that qualify me enough to be a super fan? I don't know . . . I don't know who decides these things either, but I hope whoever does comes across this blog post someday. These books are pure, and good, and right, and they're still some of my most favorite literature I've ever read. They're friendly and comforting and still make me cry every time because there isn't a place that draws me in further than Hogwarts and Britain and the wizarding world.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Open Windows

I wrote this May 1st but due to some recent posting I didn't want to overburden my readers. Here it is now, and it still holds true.

I'm not a very clean person. I mean, every once in a while, I reach a breaking point and go ape on my mess of a room for a solid hour, but that happens . . . maybe once every 4 months. Lucky for me, tonight was one of those nights. In actuality, this was prompted by the impending visit of my parents, so thanks again Mom and Dad, for picking up after me one way or another for my whole life.

A great outcome of this (aside from not living like a slob any more) was that I can finally use the desk in my room. Previously a holding place for a lot of empty envelopes that I never throw away for some reason, it is now a dust-free writing center. I've heard time and again that to sleep more effectively, only use your bed for sleeping in, so your brain isn't confused when you lie down, mistaking your desire to sleep for the internet surfing you were doing in your bed a few hours prior. Plus, although it's called a "laptop," I absolutely despise having my laptop on my lap. That is some intense heat! (get your minds out of the gutter, all of you).

The result of these cleaning sprees is usually me breaking a sweat, and since I only do that about once every 4 months, the benefits of cleanliness are two-fold (cardiovascular and respiratory health). Invariably, that will force me to open the window and let the cool night breeze (currently a balmy 42 degrees Farenheit) dance into my room. And this, three meandering, self-indulgent paragraphs later, is what prompted me to being this blog post. (would more people read these posts if they weren't so lame in the beginning?)

My roommates love the A/C. I moved into this apartment last August and through October they were blasting the A/C. I'm too passive-aggressive to bring it up, or even change the dial myself, but I'm a firm believer in either freezing or sweating it out if the established A/C or heater temperature isn't to your satisfaction (see: miser). So on rare nights like tonight, when no one else realized it was 75 degrees in our apartment, I got to crack the window and listen to the white noise from the distant busy road and smell fresh air for the first time in 5 hours (I don't move very much on Sundays). And then it gets to the point like right now, where it's getting a little too cold and I'm starting to get goose bumps but I don't want to say goodbye to that breeze and that freshness and the hum of passing cars (and the occasional car full of men singing "Party in the USA" at the top of their lungs as they drive by) that reminds me cleanliness is next to godliness and that some fresh air does the body good.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Sister Kramer

I was "best friends" (quotes because I kind of hate that term) and roommates with the same person for about 3 years of my life. In August, we parted ways and I would be lying if I said it was no big deal. For me, it was a big deal. I realized I didn't know how to have fun or be myself or do things on my own, especially in Provo. I'd be lying if I said I figured it out. I don't think I have. But that's part of this summer social program and this try-new-things agenda I've made for myself, and I think things are going well. Better than before, anyway.Before, I didn't know where to even begin. I was too insecure to strike up conversations with people, let alone make new friends. I was too insecure to just go places on my own (still really bad at that). I spent an inordinate amount of time eating, sleeping, and watching TV, and nothing else.

Sometime during fall semester last year, my co-worker McKenna casually invited me to go to a dance and cultural event on campus with her and a friend. It was a simple gesture that was easy enough for me to accept. This is what McKenna does: makes people feel at ease, even if they're not at ease with themselves. It sparked similar invitations. This is what McKenna does: thoughtfully remembers others. Over a short time, this created a friendship. This is what McKenna does: makes new friends with ease and is incredibly loyal.

I like to think I put up a tough front but to those who spend every workday with me,(McKenna) I'm sure I'm actually pretty transparent. So, I like to think that McKenna didn't realize this incredible service she did for me, by doing this one simple thing so many months ago, and she's just that friendly. But maybe that's exactly it; maybe McKenna saw how much I needed a friend and extended a hand. Each scenario is as likely as the other. And while I'm focusing on this one act, over eight months ago, the truth is that her continued friendship has inspired me to be better, and to find myself how I want to be: fun, friendly, and serving others.

McKenna is beginning an 18-month proselyting mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on July 27th, serving in Budapest, Hungary, speaking Hungarian. McKenna leaves on Monday to go home and prepare to serve. I'd be lying if I said I wouldn't miss her and her hilarious sense of humor and her positive attitude and her willingness to always put up with me and all of my quirks. I'm struggling to put what I'm feeling into words because I think so much of this friendship has been about things unsaid, about an understanding without having to spell out feelings or back track to retract misstatements. There's been a very common ground in this judgment-free relationship, and while I'm going to miss so many things about McKenna while she's serving, that might be what I'll miss the most. How many people do you find in your life, that just kind of get you? I think I'd be more worried, except I know that I won't meet too many people in my life as wonderful as McKenna, so I'm not going to let something as small as a year and a half on the other side of the world stop this friendship.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Welcome back!

Disclaimer: It's about to get real in this blog post . . . but hopefully still delightful.

I know what you're all* (none of you are) thinking: "Laurie, you've been working full-time and not in classes and just loafing around for the past three weeks. Where are your witty and endearing blog posts about recesses of your life that everyone* (no one) wants to read about!?" Based on past experience, a reader of my blog would assume an apology is forthcoming. In this instance, you are incorrect. No apology, because I have nothing to apologize for. I have been living life for the past three weeks, and it has been glorious.

New leaves are always easiest to turn over when there is some noticeable, tangible shift to hide behind. I picked the change from winter to spring semester here in Provo. Turnover in church attendees, no classes, and working full-time all adds up to a perfect opportunity to reinvent myself as a socialite. This is a role I've never taken on in my life before (except for maybe a few miraculous months of sophomore year in high school) and I have to say: I was incredibly nervous to try this social experiment. People who know me best probably think this is strange. People who have known me the past four years probably think this is normal. The phenomenon of my personality switch from outgoing to introverted is probably good fodder for a dissertation, not a blog post, so I'll skip that for now.

My number one method for kicking this habit of hermit-ism was to attend every church function, big or small. It started out small, but it's grown. Now I'm also on an intramural ultimate frisbee team (which used to be a huge passion in my life so I'm pleased as punch to get back to the sport). I've started running a few times a week (to stop embarrassing myself while playing ultimate frisbee). Would you even believe I've started going to bed at 11pm so I can get the recommended amount of sleep every night? (except when I have blogs to write or games to play with new-found friends).

This didn't start out easy. Three weeks later, it's pretty easy, but that first week, I wanted to throw in the towel. The second week, I still kind of wanted to throw in the towel. Last weekend, to the beginning of this week, I've built up some social endurance and I'm getting ready to roll. I doubt anyone who reads my blog needs this advice, and make no mistake: this isn't for you; it's for me because here is what I don't want to forget:

I woke up Saturday morning to the sun peaking through the blinds in my bedroom, with strips of soft light lazily falling onto my face and pillow. I ate breakfast and went to an ultimate frisbee game where I rediscovered how much I truly love to be competitive and active and that I am actually very slightly good at ultimate frisbee. My calves burned and my lungs were stabbed by every breath I gulped down in the rare moments of rest in the game. My face and arms were flushed from exertion and the sun that was starting to beat down in earnest as the hour wore on. I jumped for the disc and collided with someone and laid on the sparse grass, relishing the cool earth on my face. I got up and halfheartedly tried to wipe the grass and dirt of my shirt, shorts, and shins. I felt pleased that at least I was playing good enough defense to get in the way. I could feel the soil that had snuck into my socks and shoes.

Afterwards, I confidently wore brand new denim shorts and a pink t-shirt with ruffles to lunch with two friends that I hadn't seen in over six months. We laughed and ate delicious food and I couldn't stop smiling when I thought about how blessed I am to have such wonderful people in my life. I quickly made plans to spend the afternoon with another friend. As I drove to her house, it hit me as hard as the opponent had in the frisbee game that morning.

Although I had been happy at times through the past two years, this day was by far the happiest I had been in a very long time.

There are still a lot of things in my life that are stressing me out, that I complain about, and that I wish I could change, don't get me wrong. But there was this instance where I was driving in my car and it was running well and the radio was playing a good song and I was singing pretty loud with it and the sun was tanning my arm as it hung lazily out my window and I was warm and felt mild exhaustion after exerting a concentrated effort into performing at a sporting event. And everything was great. Sometimes I'm foolish and wish for perfection in my life. I'm lucky enough to have moments like last Saturday where I realize that not everything in my life is perfect, but there is an intense pleasure that comes from small things, like good friends and active bodies and new leaves.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Writing in Books

Every piece of advice I've ever received or read or heard about writing has included finding a time every day to write and letting that be your creative outlet time. I'm a night owl so I usually get ideas to write epic sonnets around 1 am, but I force myself to just watch The Nanny reruns until I fall asleep to the lulling sound of Fran Drescher...? I know it would be productive to wake up early and write for a bit before going to school or work, but the last time I tried to "get up early" I woke up 4 hours late, so I am afraid to try. That leaves evening (sorry, prime TV watching time) or lunch breaks (sorry, prime surfing-the-internet-for-no-reason time). So that REALLY leaves writing at work. (Hi boss, I hope you read this.)

(This has a better point, I swear.)

I took a "Writing Literary Criticism" class this semester because it was required, but it actually turned out to be the most awesome writing class ever. Not in a creative way, but I really learned how to write good academic papers and I loved my teacher so it wasn't a horrible experience. Plus, there was one cute, unmarried guy in the class, who was also in my league, whom I talked to twice. (Hi John, I hope you read this.)

On the day of the final, we turned in the big, final, research paper and took an exit survey (WITH A PENCIL!) One question asked me if I read my textbooks via an e-book, and I said no. The next question asked me how I annotated my books, with answer options like "sticky notes" "margin questions" "reading journal" "highlighter" etc. Cue insecurity.

This might be an odd thing to be insecure about, but as a bibliophile who doesn't write ANYTHING in books, I get a lot of grief about it, which is why I usually just don't say anything. I wish I was hip enough to keep a pencil tucked behind my ear, and while I'm eating an egg salad sandwich in my Buddy Holly glasses, my peasant tunic, and my skinny jeans, I could whip that pencil out and write an exclamation or question in the margin of my favorite book. There are a handful of literary people that I really admire (like, people I actually know) that are always talking about comments they've left in novels and textbooks and then look expectantly at me while I laugh and choke on my own saliva. I desperately wish I could write in books.

But I can't. I physically cannot bring myself to do it. And I'm writing this for all the non-marginers (?) out there who need a voice in these troubled times. People tell me they write in books because they love them so much. I buy that. But conversely, they must believe me when I say I don't write in book because I love them so much. One of the top five feelings in the world: opening the crisp pages of a new book. And oy, the smell, the smell. Top book smell: what gloss/ink/whatever they use for National Geographic. But even still, any new book smell is akin to cocaine to me. I just got Bossypants in the mail (loved it, if you don't mind the swears then I recommend you read it for sheer hilarity) and cracking that sucker open was like getting one almighty satisfying crack at the pinata at your 3rd grade frenemy's birthday party. You know, the one hit that actually busts the thing open and kids crowd you like the Aztec god you are, for delivering their only necessary sustenance - candy.

I work so hard at keeping books in pristine condition. I could teach "Paperbacks and Packing Your Backpack" as a class. I check every used book at the bookstore when buying new textbooks to make sure I get the nicest book for the used price. It's hard to keep re-reading books and every time come to it with a fresh pair of eyes, but fresh pages certainly help. This isn't a knock to any margin writers reading this. I wish I had your love of life, but unfortunately I do not.

I went to the University of Utah a month ago to hear Michael Ondaatje speak and someone asked him how he finds new ideas from books he's reading. He just kind of shrugged and said something like (gotta paraphrase, didn't write it down): "I read to read, to get lost in the book for pure pleasure." Again, I always get defensive when even for texts for class, my peers talk about the layering they found within the book after their first read-through and I'm stuck saying something similar to "It just sounded so beautiful . . ." and then choking on my own saliva. But Michael, he backed me up. I read to read and enjoy and not write in the margins or bend pages or fold back covers. I read to get lost and forget what a pencil is. I read because it makes me sleepy and the feeling of closing a book, dropping it next to your bed and slowly closing your eyes while you sink into your pillow is one of the most satisfying feelings in the world.


Well, since it doesn't seem like my last post took that well, let's try this one, only 450 words! This was the final for my fiction class. The parameters were:
  • The story must be exactly 450 words.
  • The title must be "Roustabout."
  • Somewhere in the story must be the words: weather vane, tether, pelican, and marionette.
  • A character must die by an act of God (insurance company definition).
  • The first four words and the last four words must be "It was so cold."
I thought it was really fun to write, I think this didn't come out ... terribly, although expanding it would definitely make it better. We had to read them in front of the class during our potluck final and even though I never shut up in that class and I usually am making everyone laugh, I was shaking while reading this.

Disclaimer for all future and past short stories: just because it's in first person doesn't mean it's about me. It might come as a shock to some of you, but I am not a deckhand, my father did not beat me as a child, and did not die by a flood.

It was so cold that it seemed like the waves that were pounding the deck should be frozen. I’d never been in a storm this bad, or this cold. I tried not to think in comparisons though; I just kept hammering ice off the deck of the boat because hey, at least I had a job. I didn’t know how to do much, except work hard and do what I was told. As a kid, I knew I could adhere to those principles or feel my dad’s backhand across my face, so I listened and learned.

A well-meaning shrink tried to talk to me once about my dad and his parenting methods but I thought, why dig up the past? Yeah, he kicked the crap out of me, but I ran away to the shipyards at 14, and the man’s dead. Like the rest of us, my dad was just another marionette in the narrative run by cheap whiskey and a pitiful paycheck. That shrink should’ve asked what my mom did to him by leaving and what his job did to him by being a dead end. And honestly, there was some poetic justice in him being drowned by an undiscerning current in a flood. Maybe it was sick to be satisfied by that, but I think justice was served.

At dawn, I was relieved for a little bit to catch some sleep. The ship was rocking so badly, I tethered myself to the bunk so I could sleep without fear of rolling out of bed. Worse than the rocking, I could feel the ship veering every which way, like a giant weathervane, victim to the storm’s fickle wind. This was the worst storm I could ever remember being in. I wondered if this might be the last storm, the last job, the last memory of my life.

One time I was sitting on deck, a few years back, and this pelican, just out of nowhere, up and landed on the bow of the boat. It road with us all the way from south to north and never moved once. There was a heavy rain that trip too. We thought the bird was brain dead or something, tried to go out and help it, bring it under the cover just so it wouldn’t freeze to the railing but it started pecking at us if we got too close. I stayed up all night, watching over it. I don’t know what the hell I thought I could do, the bird didn’t care about me at all. I guess I felt like this bird was probably running somewhere too, and it was as tired as I was, because it was so cold.

Saturday, April 16, 2011


Don't let the title alarm you, although that is the title of my short story. Don't worry, it's not graphic, but someone does die. Don't worry it's super long, and . . . I have nothing else to say about that, I'm just sorry. But read it, it's not horrendous! This is the revision of my final workshop piece for my fiction class.

Kyle was so bored, he thought he was going to die. Sitting on the steps of the faded red, wooden porch in front of his house, he watched the elderly neighbor across the street swear at the plants in his garden box for not blooming faster. The sky was clear and cerulean, there was a light breeze. And yet, Kyle was dissatisfied.

He had tried every argument he could find on Google about why he needed a dog. He was an only child, he was a teenager with few friends, he didn't get much exercise, he needed more responsibility to mature him into a responsible adult, this was suburban America and everyone had a dog, and the list went on. Neither of his parents seemed convinced that he would really be the one taking care of the dog, instead of them. During the first month or so, he had been relentless but now that time had passed, he didn't hold out hope for his parents to change their minds. However, on days like today, when he wished he had any sort of companion to walk a mile or so to the neighborhood lake with (four or two legged), his dream of owning a dog was alive and well.

That’s not to say Kyle didn’t have any friends. There were a few neighbor boys that periodically tried to include him in their activities. He guessed it was at their mothers’ behest but didn’t complain on the occasions they did invite him to play video games with them or ride bikes. They all had varying degrees of elite social status at school and then there was Kyle. Bryan practiced basketball with the high school team because he was so tall. Trevor was the only kid who climbed onto the cafeteria roof without getting caught or getting scared. Josh could distract teachers long enough in class to make them forget to collect homework from the night before, and everyone loved him for it. Chris had already made out with a few girls at school. Kyle was pretty smart and kind of funny, but didn’t stand out much from the other orchestra kids and track athletes.

The one thing about Kyle was that he didn't have the skin of most teenage boys – that is to say, thick. When the guys teased him for being slower than the rest of them while bike riding on his second hand, blue and purple single-speed Huffy, or getting repeatedly killed in Halo, he took it personally. He could laugh it off for a little while, but after too much mocking, he would make an excuse for why he needed to go home, or to the bathroom, so he could shed a tear or two in private and berate himself for being so sensitive. He assumed if he had a dog, the other guys would be more interested in being his friend instead of using him as an easy target. And even if that pipe dream didn't turn out, at least he’d have one friend on his side no matter what.

Because the neighborhood gang didn’t come around too often, his parents were worried about him. Moving to another state is never easy for a kid, especially when the kid just turned 13. They thought the dog might actually be a good idea, but their worries weren’t just lines to stall their son, they were real concerns. A puppy needed lots of attention, and that would all be on this 13 year old. He’d always done well in school and been a good kid, but it was just a big step.

On that perfect spring day, amid the curses of the irate gardener wafting across the asphalt road, Kyle imagined what he would be doing with his dog, if he had one. Walking him, playing Frisbee, swimming together, reading…well, Kyle would be reading, using the dog as a pillow, and the dog would be dozing, enjoying the company of his master. As he got lost again in his doggy day dream, his father’s forest green SUV pulled into the driveway. Without really looking at him, Kyle offered a lazy hello as he stared at the sort-of-green-but-mostly-yellow crab crass littering the front yard, wondering if a dog would be bothered such a shoddy yard or if he would just be happy to be with Kyle.

“Son, I need some help unloading some stuff from the car.”

Kyle walked to the car and opened the back door. Staring him in the face, was a black, Great Dane puppy.


Kyle was so worried, he thought he was going to die. Once again, Scotch had dug a hole in the back yard and once again, Kyle knew his parents would be furious.

After everyone’s initial excitement about Scotch’s arrival, that worry-free day a few short months ago, certain family member’s enthusiasm had dramatically waned. For example, Kyle’s mother had replaced many couch cushions and rugs after a combination of chewing and bathroom accidents. Kyle’s dad had bought a lot of sod and had replaced a lot of lawn tools and lawn furniture. Thankfully, the landlord hadn't been over in a while. Despite it all, Kyle was still on cloud nine.

In moments like this, when he saw dirt flung across the yard and what looked to be the chewed off handle of yet another garden rake in the new hole, he didn't stop loving his dog, but he did worry about him. Threats had already started about where Scotch would end up if Kyle couldn't keep better tabs on him. He had tried every training method every book described in the local library, but nothing seemed to calm the dog down. Lots of exercise and PetSmart obedience classes didn’t help either. Kyle’s parents were incredulous that the dog was untamable and that Kyle still tried so hard. He had been bit, drug, dirtied, and knocked down and through it all, he always had a smile on his face. His books had been eaten, he shoes had been chewed through, his bed had been used as a toilet, and still he didn't give up on his dog. It was getting to the point that his parents were trying to intervene on Kyle’s behalf and take Scotch to a shelter. He wouldn't stand for it. The end result had been if Scotch messes up Kyle’s belongings, that was Kyle’s problems but if Scotch continued to ruin furniture, landscape, and parental belongings, he was going to the pound.

Almost worse than Scotch’s reign of destruction, was his complete disdain for his master. Kyle still gave him treats and top-of-the-line chew toys, but he refused to indulge Kyle. He wouldn't let Kyle give him belly rubs, he dragged Kyle along when he got put on a leash, and Kyle’s ultimate dream of resting his head on his dog, while they both lounged in the sun, dog dozing and boy reading, was never possible with Scotch. Sometimes, when he was feeling particularly down, he wondered whether or not Scotch even wanted to be his dog. His parents and the four pack (as the neighborhood boys called themselves) were always on his case about getting so attached to such a demon animal. No one could see why Kyle loved Scotch so much, and he could never really explain it to them because he wasn't sure himself. The dog didn't really seem to enjoy living where he was and he certainly ruined everything he touched, but . . . he was Kyle’s dog. Kyle wondered if that really counted for anything versus the growing number of strikes against Scotch’s character.

Kyle shook himself from the recollection of Scotch’s misdeeds and corralled the animal in one corner of the fenced backyard (Scotch was always trying to escape, so the fence had been a new investment). After getting the leash on him after only being knocked down twice, Kyle tied the other end of the leash to the back porch and went to work filling the hole back up with dirt from the flower beds. When he was finished, the August sun had turned the back of his neck pink, and sweat was dripping into his eyes. Scotch was chewing the wood of an already ruined step on the porch, so Kyle ran up the steps past him to take a quick shower, hoping to hide all evidence of Scotch’s crime by the time his parents arrived home.

By the time he got out of the shower, his dad was rifling through the mail in the kitchen, his back turned towards the back yard.

“Hey son, what are you up to?”

“Nothing…just took a shower after I went bike riding.”

“Sounds good. Did your mom say what she was going to make for dinner tonight?”

The conversation progressed as if Kyle’s father had no knowledge of the backyard fiasco. Kyle tried to keep the guilt out of his voice and tried to keep his eyes from darting into the backyard. Shortly, his mom arrived and they even started eating dinner, without discussing Scotch’s latest dig. After dinner, Kyle’s dad suggested s’mores in the backyard, and unable to tell the truth, Kyle gulped and nodded, waiting for the hammer to fall.


Kyle was so heartbroken, he thought he was going to die. Hanging on the other side of the fence, from his leash stuck on the top of the fence, was Scotch. He had eaten away enough wood on the back porch to yank the leash free from the railing, and made one ill-judged leap from the porch to what he thought would be safety in the neighbor’s yard. His leash caught on the top of the fence, and he had hung himself.

That’s what Kyle’s dad assumed had happened anyway. That’s certainly what it looked like to everyone who heard about the scene over the next few days. Kyle’s parents had been worried about him at first, his best friend (albeit, unreciprocated best friend) had died and Kyle saw it firsthand. He moped and didn't eat much and looked like he had been crying in his room, although he never allowed himself to cry in front of them about it. Once, his mom felt so bad, she offered to replace Scotch. Kyle’s head snapped up and he looked shocked and hurt at such a blasphemous suggestion. After a few weeks though, Kyle seemed to be getting back in the swing of his regular activities. Maybe not with as much spring in his step, but he definitely looked like he was getting over Scotch. And really, his parents thought, how hard could it be to get over such a horrendous pet? It was a sad accident, yes, but they weren't exactly mourning a calmer household without Scotch around.


On a Saturday towards the end of September, the doorbell rang. Kyle’s parents were grocery shopping and he was reading on the Scotch-colored, overstuffed, leather La-Z-Boy armchair. When he opened the door, he saw the neighbor boys that hung out with him occasionally (but not at all, since Scotch’s accident).

“Hey. Wanna ride down to the lake with us?” Trevor asked.

“It’s too cold to go swimming, what are you guys going to do?”

“Dunno. Just hang out.”

Kyle didn't really feel like doing nothing outside, partly because he was enjoying his book and partly because he didn't have to stretch his imagination far to envision the boys pushing him into the water.

“Yeah, okay, let me grab my jacket.”

Once they arrived at the lake, the boys started talking amongst themselves, standing on the shore. Kyle stood on the outside of their circle. Bryan, another one of the neighbor boys, said something about his own dog. The group fell silent and glanced at Kyle. Kyle forced a smile and laughed it off. Tension visibly lifted from the boys as they all laughed, and Chris lightly punched Kyle on the arm.

“Hey man, that was crazy about your dog,” Chris said.

“Yeah, I guess it was.”

“No, I mean seriously, was the dog retarded or something?”

“No, he just … I dunno, he was just trying to get out of the yard.”

“Or he was trying to commit suicide,” Josh said.

Bryan sniggered. Kyle’s smile faltered.

“I don’t think that’s what happened.”

“Come on, that mutt was crazy, he was always trying to get away from you. $10 bucks says his last doggy thought was ‘Thank God, I’ll die and be free!’”

All the boys started laughing at this, except Kyle. He couldn't laugh, because the thought had crossed his own mind.

“Shut up,” Kyle whispered.

“Hey man, I’m sorry, I was just kidding around…”

Josh shifted nervously from foot to foot, stuffing his hands in the pockets of his jacket, looking around the group for support.

“I mean, come on man, that dog was always giving you trouble, and now he’s gone. You can’t feel that bad about it, can you?” Trevor asked.

Kyle could hear the blood pounding in his ears, his face was growing warm and he was sure the sheen of tears welling in his eyes was obvious.

“Yeah, definitely. Hey, I have to go home and do some stuff before my parents get home, I’ll see you guys around.”

Kyle quickly jumped on his bike and sped down the road, back to his house, grinding his teeth against the tears threatening to roll down his face.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Make 'em laugh

Last night, my office had a talent show. My friend was putting it together and was low on participants so she asked me to do a stand-up routine. Now, it sounds better if I claim I was forced into it, but really I have wanted to try stand-up for awhile, and I wasn't really into doing it in front of people I kind of knew, but if I really didn't want to do it, I really wouldn't have said yes. Then, the party planning committee wasn't sure who would M.C and because I'm that self-centered, I volunteered to do that as well.

The whole day I felt pretty ready to puke. I knew I wouldn't back out because I had already committed to doing it, but "nervous" was an understatement. I'd much rather strikeout in front of strangers than in front of people I have to see every day. I practiced my routine in front of friend 1 (already mentioned) and friend 2, who both laughed in all the right spots so I felt a little bit better, but not much. There was free pizza and dessert for everyone, which I didn't eat in case I really did puke, and then the festivities began.

I wasn't really nervous to M.C, for some reason I've done that a lot in my life already. Everyone laughed at all of those jokes and I was feeling good. I mean, I had a mic and everyone's attention, could I really feel that bad? Thankfully, friend 1 (her name is McKenna...I don't know why I can't just say that...) introduced me so that wasn't awkward and I just jumped into my jokes.

Everyone laughed! It was great, actually. I mean, my voice was shaking like a 1920's movie star warble (that's only funny if you've seen that one Family Guy episode...) but the timing was good, I only laughed at my own joke once (because I made eye contact with someone in the audience that was laughing). Big shout out to my mom actually, the whole sketch revolved around the FALSE notion that she was worried about me being 21 and single and assumed I was going to be a cat lady.

Afterwards, I got lots of congratulations, and the "Funniest Talent" award (which...there was no other stand-up so that didn't count for much, but hey, I got a candy bar) and I felt like maybe I really could audition for BYU's stand-up group, Humor U. Unfortunately I found out that auditions happened three days ago, so I missed it, but next year I'll be ready.

I've always enjoyed making people laugh. It probably actually gets really annoying because I'll do just about anything to make someone laugh. It's intoxicating, I feel the best about my life and myself when I'm making someone laugh. I don't think I could ever admit to anyone that I wish I could be famously funny, but secretly I wish I could be famously funny. Who knows, maybe it'll happen...?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


My second submission piece for my fiction class.

I walk across the asphalt from my car to the grocery store entrance. My long, brunette hair is blowing in my face but I have an image in my mind; that my hair looks like the hair of a model on a shampoo commercial, so I don’t pull it out of my face and eyes. The automatic glass doors don’t jerk open fast enough and I stutter step to avoid running into them. Someone must have seen the incident and thought I looked like an idiot. I can’t decide between a big cart so there’s enough room for my larger items or a smaller cart so I don’t have to apologize to someone when I accidentally get in their way. I opt for the smaller cart, gripping the blue and gray push handle with resolve. As I pull my grocery list for one from my back pocket (a small, folded, yellow Post-It note), I realize that no one probably noticed such a small piece of paper in my hand. They must’ve thought I was just touching my butt.

I glance over at the grapes on sale right in the entrance to the store, but there is already an elderly woman in a red fleece vest with a cream turtleneck standing there. I don’t want to make her uncomfortable by standing close to her, inspecting grapes. Plus, I probably would’ve picked the wrong bag of grapes and she would’ve pitied me for being so grape-ignorant, not that she even knows me. She looks like my grandmother, with gray, curly, short hair. She even smiles at me and I am surprised she has such nice teeth. But, I know she would’ve judged my grapes. I look right to avoid eye contact with my grandmother and am tempted by the Pop-Tarts. But I know what people think of Pop-Tart eaters, so I veer to the left and head for the bread aisle.

I don’t like bagels that much, but they’re convenient. And, everyone thinks they’re healthy, right, which is a good reason to buy them. I wonder if passing customers (like that man with too much hair gel on his comb over) notice my shopping savvy as I grab the on-sale brand of bagels advertised by the neon yellow sign on the shelf. He probably thinks I am a cheapskate, buying the gross bagel brand just to save a few bucks. He might be six feet tall, but even with his four inch height advantage I think I could get away from him if he were to attack me. I only buy the cinnamon raisin variety because I eat them without any spread. At first I thought I didn’t put cream cheese on my bagels because I was too lazy to put cream cheese on my bagels. I realized I just didn’t like buying cream cheese. I wonder if this overweight, obviously single man thinks less of me without the cream cheese (because really, who eats a bagel without cream cheese?) or if he would think less of me if I had cream cheese in my cart. Of course, I could have cream cheese still in my fridge at home. But, I bet some people have seen me shopping here before and know that I never buy cream cheese. Maybe not overweight flannel shirt guy, but some people. I consider shopping at a different supermarket from now on.

Around the next corner is the open produce area. I know I should buy vegetables but I am nervous to pick out some that aren’t “good.” I only eat vegetables with ranch dressing, and then it becomes more about the dressing than the vegetables so why bother? I don’t know many people who go to the grocery store without buy vegetables. The absence of vegetables in my cart must be alarming, especially to that eccentric looking woman with fly-away auburn hair, who looks kind of like my mother. She seems preoccupied with her apples, and flirting with the middle-aged produce clerk, but I’m pretty sure she saw me walk right by the cucumbers, carrots, and lettuce. I want to get some apples, I eat one every day, but I really don’t want that woman to ask me about my lack of vegetables. I decide to skip buying the apples I really want, that happen to be on sale, and push my cart through the different displays of bananas, cantaloupes, and oranges. Right past the apples.

I stop in the middle of the thoroughfare because the two dollar bags of corn tortilla chips are always on the end of the aisle, nearest to the produce. I try to think about who I could complain to about that. Every time I stop for tortilla chips, my cart is in the middle of all the foot traffic and I know people start to hate me for taking up aisle real estate. That’s why I usually try to get a small cart. I know customers like those two 20-something men in horizontally striped polo shirts, who that are talking to each other and run into me and profusely apologize and then keep walking, did it in on purpose. They wanted to show me what they thought of me being in the way and buying the tortilla chips. The store manager should really think of a better place to stock these chips.

I turn into the next aisle over, the cereal aisle, which always takes the most time for me. I never know what kind of cereal to buy. I look thrifty because I’m buying Malt-o-Meal. I’ve never actually done a price comparison to see if Malt-o-Meal really is a better deal than the box, name brand cereal. The young mother with two children hanging out of her large shopping cart must think I eat cereal every night. Even she doesn’t buy a Malt-o-Meal bag of cereal, and she has a family. I almost put the cereal back, but I don’t want to look too picky so I keep it in my cart. It’s crushing my other groceries and obviously doesn’t fit very well, but I’m still glad I picked a smaller cart, I think. One time I bought the off brand of Malt-o-Meal and it was disgusting. The college student in sweat pants and slippers walks buy me and grabs one such off brand bag of cereal. I know she thinks I’m rich because I buy Malt-o-Meal, and I wish I could tell her I’m not.


After gathering all the items on my list, I pause to brainstorm some other meal options. I’m starting to feel panicky, and for no reason my face is turning red. I know employees and customers have seen me walking through the aisles and if I take too long, they’ll start to think and talk about me. I can hear the cereal mother with her kid, telling her husband on the phone about me. I can see the overweight comb over man chatting with his online friend about the weirdo in the grocery store he saw tonight. Too quickly, I walk to a checkout lane. I start piling my groceries on the conveyor belt, my anxiety growing. The couple holding hands in front of me has ground beef, vegetables, raw pasta, seasoning packets, and more; all the makings of having a good week’s worth of dinners. They know how good their groceries are too, because they’re smiling and talking. I don’t make eye contact with them; I don’t want to read the scorn in their eyes. I know it’s there. I purposely stare at all the other items around the counter. Celebrity gossip magazines with shouting headlines, candy bars, gum, breath mints in really metallic and flashy packaging, fingernail clippers. I’d buy a candy bar, but I know those people in front of me would see it. Then the cashier would see it too.

He starts scanning my items, smiling “pleasantly.” He is judging me too. He drags package after package of my Ramen noodles over the laser light, and tries to make small talk. I wish he would just say it. I wish he would just tell me what he thought of me and my groceries. I want to reach over the ATM pin pad, grab him by his apron, shake him, and walk out without saying a word. I wish I could leave my groceries behind.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Brian the Warrior

I just wrote out this whole, moving blog post about how much the Redwall series means to kids, with protagonists that work together, advocate for the defenseless, and take control of their own situations even though they are small in stature. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that while I do believe all of that and see that as the genius of Brian Jacques with his series, I can't ignore the 3rd grader in me who started reading those books.

Laurie Banks, a problematic 3rd grader, seemed to only really be good at reading. Math, not her strong suit. Cursive, not her strong suit. Art, not her strong suit. She read books out of the bin marked "11" on the shelves and was the only one to do that, and she was proud. Real proud. She had temper tantrums, got sent to the principal's office, and cried a lot at school. She didn't think about much when she read Redwall except that it was exciting and they were cute animals that had cool, dangerous weapons that did good things for their friends or even strangers that needed help. There were riddles throughout the book that intrigued and challenged and added to the flair of the story. Above all, it was series. A long series. This world never had to end. The good guys always won and it was nice to be in a place where it was easy to tell who was supposed to get the crayons thrown at them and who was supposed to be on your soccer team at recess. It was fun, and continued to be fun through high school, so she kept reading all of the books that Brian Jacques wrote.

I hope kids keep reading these books. I hope parents bridge the word of mouth gaps and keep Redwall Abbey around for their kids. These are wonderful stories and not that I've ever met the man, but there isn't a kindlier looking jacket cover than the one with Brain Jacques smiling up at you. I could get deeper and (like I did in the first paragraph) really identify why kids relate to these texts so much, but let's not over think this. The Redwall series is fun, so let's keep reading fun. I hope authors and publishers and readers alike keep this mantra in mind. Reading should be fun.

Thanks, Mr. Jacques or as I will affectionately refer to you from here on out, Brian the Warrior. Thanks for making reading so fun.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Gyro Combo

I sit in my office cubicle a lot. It's quiet, the computer has dual monitors, and there's a set of speakers so I don't have to use earbuds for an annoyingly long period of time in a library or common area to study. If I go home, I sit on my bed, facing the TV in my room. Either I end up turning it on and watching reruns of shows I don't actually like or I fall asleep. In my office I usually end up browsing the Internet for inordinate amounts of time, but I feel a little more productive in a quite office chair than anywhere else, even if it isn't accomplishing anything.

The weekend is no exception. But, on Fridays I usually indulge and think "if I'm not doing anything fun, the funnest option I have to get some good food." This particular evening I walked out of my office around 6pm. It's about a 7 minute walk to the student parking lot, across a busy road on campus. I waited for the light to change and started moving with the sound of the electronic bird tweets signaling the walk signal. I hadn't taken many steps when I saw a white, mid-nineties four-door sedan about 100 feet before the crosswalk. I stutter stepped because even though he could've slammed on his breaks and made the stop, I already knew he wasn't going to. He slammed right into a teal, early 2000's SUV of some kind. He caught the back, passenger side panel and spun the car around. His air bags deployed. Another guy was in the crosswalk with me and we both stopped for a second. I realized the red hand started flashing and we were just standing in the middle of the road.

We both kept walking. I looked at the driver of the SUV who was now facing south instead of north. We made eye contact as this middle-aged, dress suit clad, matronly looking red-headed woman took off her seatbelt. I kept looking back. "At least their okay," the kid walking next to me said. No one was getting out of the white sedan. I kept looking back. I heard another man I had passed on the sidewalk before the crosswalk, calling out to both drivers, "are you guys okay? Ma'm are you okay?" The last time I looked back, he was walking between cars. There were flashing blue lights from the BYU police squad car that had already arrived on the scene.

I went through a drive-thru and brought my food back to my office, so I could watch some TV on Netflix with a faster Internet connection than at my apartment. As I approached the same intersection in my car (it was late enough I could park any where on campus by this point), I wondered if it had gotten cleaned up. About 30 minutes had passed and the accident hadn't seemed to terrible to me. I rounded the corner and saw flares stopping traffic from passing north to south. There was an ambulance and a fire truck. Medical personnel was surrounding someone on the pavement. I couldn't see any more than that.

I'm a real jerk sometimes. People invite me to do things and I decline because I'd rather not hassle with the social expectations of laughing at a stupid joke, or pretending I think someone is making an intelligent critique on society when really they're just regurgitating some nonsense from their parents, teacher, or favorite political pundit. Don't get me wrong, I'm not any better, but I would venture that I'm a lot more self aware. Meeting people is hard. I used to be good at it but I forgot how, somewhere over the course of the last few years. I feel awkward and self-conscious when I try to strike up a conversation with someone who I'm assuming is thinking about my acne or my weight or my outfit.

Despite all of this, I really thought I was a good person. I thought if someone needed help, I would drop anything to lend a hand. I walked by those cars and for a split second thought "I should see if they're okay." Then I kept walking. I assumed they all had phones. I assumed that because I didn't see anyone slumped over in their seats that they were fine, just another traffic accident. And in reality, there are all sorts of lawsuits about good Samaritans who get the short end of the stick because they've given improper care at the scene of an accident. I'm not trained in emergency response. I don't really know what the right response would've been. It was probably more of a lose/lose situation. But I can't really change anything now. I didn't stop.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Eight to Five

Again, a submission for my "Writing Fiction" class. I'm not enamored with what I wrote (procrastination...when will I learn?) but I was surprised that I got positive feedback and of course, a few things that I hope to revise when I have a chance to revisit this piece and put some more time into it, because I really like the concept.

Coolridge was a small air conditioning company in southern Nevada. There weren’t many employees, and even less that worked in the administrative offices. Joe was standing at a table near the front door, sorting the mail. Beth was getting a cup of coffee from the break room before she started calling customers about account balances. Carrie yawned as she pulled up the company website. Roger was checking his e-mail in his cubicle. The owners were behind closed doors, in their offices. Beige paint coated the walls making everything seem more sterile than it really was. The brown and gold flecked industrial carpet didn’t do much either. It could’ve been linoleum and no one would’ve felt better or worse about it. No matter how many tricks the renovators tried to employ to make the office feel warm and inviting, there was no way around the ambivalent chill that pervaded every cubicle and office.

Joe dropped off Beth’s mail in the black, plastic mail holder screwed to the outside of her cubicle wall. Beth had two young kids, was from Arizona, and her husband did something…car repair, Joe thought. She always said hello to him when he dropped off the mail, she looked the plump, pleasant, matronly sort. She drove a grey minivan that looked like it was past its expiration date. She looked worn and her dark brown hair was showing a little grey. He assumed two young kids and a hard working husband probably did that too her more than genetics or age. Her parents lived close; Joe knew they watched her kids during the day. Every day she brought her own lunch, just a sandwich, a piece of fruit, and some water. Nothing ever changed in Beth’s routine, or at least that’s what it looked like. Joe didn’t know her husband had already lost his job and that Beth worked a graveyard shift at a call center to help her family.

Beth smiled at Joe when he dropped off her mail, made some small talk about his dogs. Joe lived alone in a small apartment. He had two big yellow labs; he had pictures of them hung up in his cubicle. He was born and raised in Nevada and had probably never lived farther than fifteen miles away from his parents in his life. He was lanky, mousey, and never stood or sat up straight. He talked about video games a lot. Beth knew he had some online friends that he played something with…maybe a war, shooting type game. She wished she could think of a gentle way to tell him to get a life, separate from his parents and live to a greater potential, but for as well as she knew him, she didn’t want to come off as rude.

Every night, Joe went home to his apartment to see his dogs and eat a frozen dinner. Afterwards, he drove three miles to his parents’ house, where he could sit with his mother who couldn’t remember who he was. He wanted to be an architect but because of his mother’s long time health problems before her memory loss, all the money he and his father had went to her medical bills. Joe didn’t tell anyone. He knew they’d give pity and money and while he could really use the latter, he never wanted to hear someone tell him how sorry they were for his family.

Carrie started an instant message chat with Roger, double checking that his e-mail problem from was resolved. It was full of emoticons and Internet abbreviations, feigning politeness. They worked across the hall from each other, but the only way Carrie ever spoke to Roger was through the keyboard and computer screen. He had to be over 60, with grey hair and age spots on his hands. He also came up to about Carrie’s shoulder so he was easy enough to ignore.

Roger couldn’t stand Carrie. She came across as so artificial with her hair dyed black and her long fluorescent pink fingernails. She showed up late to work almost every day and never got back to anyone in a timely manner, even though there were only a dozen of them in the office and he worked right across the hall from her. Roger knew she ignored him because she couldn’t stand his technological handicaps but she still had to work with him, was it so hard to just be nice and helpful? He’d worked with her for three years now and it never got any better.

Roger’s wife left him a year ago but he never told anyone. He had a convenient excuse for the Christmas party so the subject never got breached. He didn’t have the heart to take down the picture of her from his grey cubicle wall. She cheated on him and he knew for a while but was too spineless to do anything about it. He’d rather have a cheating wife than no wife at all. Now he’d had both and wished everyday she’d come back. He stopped taking care of himself and ate a cheeseburger just about every day for lunch in the office. Carrie thought he was disgusting and wished she didn’t even have to talk to him via e-mail but knew that she couldn’t ignore him forever when he needed something fixed on his computer.

The office had weak fluorescent lighting that washed everyone out. Everyone thought the other looked sick and pasty but they actually looked the same way and didn’t realize it. They all judged each other and they all harbored resentment about something to do with their bosses. Vacation time denied, bonus requests ignored, health insurance premium complaints swept under the rug. No one was brave enough to do more than send one e-mail about one issue. No one was brave enough to complain about the problems while the bosses were in the same building. No one was friendly enough to share the complaining with their co-workers.

They all worked Monday through Friday, from eight in the morning to five at night. At some point in time they had rotated the lunch schedule long enough that they had all eaten lunch together at some point. Christmas was the only time they saw each other outside of work. The party was still a work party though, so if people did show up they were as tight lipped and artificial as they usually were in the office. There were stories of weekend escapades shared and funny anecdotes about children (whether their own or nieces and nephews) were always popular. If they were really questioned about it, they would claim they all knew each other, they were all friends, and they all enjoyed their coworkers.

Carrie collected her family pictures and desk toys and put them in her messenger bag. She walked to the break room and retrieved her coffee mug. Without a word to anyone else she walked out of the office and drove away in her blue, four-door sedan. No one noticed.

Shortly after the door closed from her exit, everyone in the office noticed their inboxes had a new e-mail. The vice president informed everyone that Carrie had been redirecting money from online orders into her bank account. It hadn’t taken long for the CFO to notice, it wasn’t a large sum of money, not to worry. Carrie was let go and the owners didn’t want any rumors floating around about what had happened.

One by one, heads popped up over cubicle walls to try and sneak a look at Carrie and what her reaction to the e-mail was. They all realized she wasn’t there anymore and all of her personal touches to her work space were gone.

At the end of the day, Roger, Joe, and Beth turned off their computers, picked up their keys and jackets and walked outside. For perhaps the first time in the history of their relationships, they stood around their cars and started to talk. They talked about Carrie, they talked about the bosses, they talked about their kids and nieces and nephews and pets. They talked about smoking and Roger lit a cigarette. They talked about the local sports teams and high school memories. They talked until eight in the evening, when they decided to go out for drinks instead of standing around in the parking lot. They drove to a bar around the corner and talked about shows on TV and movies in theaters and songs on the radio. At ten, Beth had to go. Roger and Joe talked for a little bit longer but parted ways shortly thereafter.

The next day they showed up to work and parked in the same spots and brought the same lunches and did the same work. They had already started the hiring process for Carrie’s replacement and employees were invited via e-mail to send any names or résumés of qualified friends or family members. Beth didn’t tell her husband about what happened to Carrie, and Joe didn’t tell his dogs or his forgetful mother. Roger didn’t tell the story to the picture of his wife on his nightstand. The only thing that really changed was that Carrie left, and that wasn’t too big of a deal.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Ice Cream Epiphany

I'm in English 318 this semester, "Writing Fiction". Our first prompt was to steal an anecdote from someone and embellish it. This is a story from my friend Bryan, he was the kid missing the thumb. The most surprising part of this story that's true? The firefighters watching "Ed, Edd, & Eddy". Thankfully this was just a "turn in and get an A" assignment, because I'm not too pleased with it, but here's to posting something rather than nothing!

I turned my face from the gusts, leaves, and debris flying into my eyes. Turning my focus and concentration away from the task at hand (holding branches for my brother to cut with the hedge clippers) was a mistake. It wasn’t so much painful as shocking, that all of the sudden, as clean as scissors cutting paper, my thumb was half gone. The gusty weather blew the clippers off course and straight into my flesh. I ran inside, yelling “ow, ow, ow!” right up to my grandmother. Her face looked pale and her footing started to falter. Since she wasn’t quick enough to give me any helpful advice, I ran to the sink and put what was left of my thumb under the tap. I was grabbing fistfuls of paper towels and any washcloths within reach and wrapping my stub as tightly as possible.

My brother was standing in the doorway, draining to the same color my grandmother was. He had forgotten to drop the clippers, and was holding the blood stained shears in his hand. In the background I could hear my grandmother faintly calling 911. By that time I was focused less on my digit and the towels and more on the “Ed, Edd, and Eddy” show playing on the TV in the living room, in plain view of the kitchen sink. It was a pretty good episode because when the fire department showed up, they didn’t seem to care much about my thumb either, and were standing around our television. About the end of the episode, my mother’s car screeched into the driveway. She whisked me into her car and the fire fighters began to leave as well. Before she shut the door completely, my brother ran to the car, chucking the shears into the lawn. Tears were running down his face as he bent down and awkwardly hugged me despite my seat belt and bulging, towel-laden thumb. He stood on the sidewalk as we drove away, and I knew I wasn't mad at him.

In the emergency room, the doctor sewed the other half of my thumb back on. I’m not sure how he got a hold of it, but there it was, back in its original resting place. Sitting in the waiting room, I finally realized what had happened. I mean, I knew what had happened, but the pain and fear and shock had only just settled on my 11 year old consciousness. Once the doctor was finished, I turned and said, “Mom, I want ice cream”. Without a moment’s hesitation she agreed. As I was slurping on my cone one the drive home, it all clicked in my mind. I wasn’t a masochist but if this was the key to ice cream on demand…I’d have to help my brother with the yard work more often.