Camp NaNoWriMo – July 2016

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A friend, his friend, and I are participating in Camp Nanowrimo, which is similar in nature to the full-blown November madness of Nanowrimo—National Novel Writing Month.  (By the way, the annual event is not restricted to the US, so it’s a bit of a misnomer.)  Anyway, even though I’m in the middle of a career change, a relocation, being on online instructor, waiting tables, and being a dad when I can, I’m going to try to write a little bit.

My modest 12,500 monthly word count is going to focus on stuff I’ve put down in my notebook.  I carry this bad boy with me almost everywhere I go.  I happen to be one of those freaks who will suddenly jot something down if it seems at least mildly story-worthy.  These will all be raw ideas that will need refinement.  My goal for the month was to get off my non-writing keester/derriere/bottom and get something out in a readable format.

Finally, I don’t really anticipate a lot of feedback from any of my readers.  It’s always welcome, but I don’t want anyone to feel obligated.  This writing is for my soul.

So…the next post will be the first item I find in my notebook that I think could eventually turn into something.

October Warm-Up (Day 1–“A First”)

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In the spirit of practicing what I preach, here was yesterday’s first warm-up writing.  This, and the 19 to follow, are obviously rough drafts that may or may not find their way down Revision Lane someday…

Day 1 – A first

This was a first that speaks to my nervousness around the opposite sex.  I had to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 11 or 12 at most.  I know I was still in elementary school.  My mom took us to either King’s Island or Cedar Point for a day about once a year.  We have some family in Ohio, and we must have made a weekend out of it–not entirely sure.  Anyway, my older brother was either on his own or with a friend that summer day at the park, so I was left with my mom.  We were in line for a ride I called The Octopus.  That may very well have been its name, but I distinctly recall this multi-legged ride with spinning cars  at each end to be white with red stripes.  

I can remember thinking it would be fun to ride this ride with my brother and not with my mom.  I sensed that she was pretty much over riding rides at this point in the day and her life, so I probably said something like how I didn’t want to ride the stupid Octopus.  Whatever I said was typically ignored or not met with adult conflict.  No.  My mom looks around and sees a girl about my height who is standing alone a few inches behind us.  

“Young lady, would you like to take my place and ride with my son?”

She clearly had not been asked such a question in her life.  Her gaping mouth suggested that no one had even ever referred to her as a young lady.

By this time we were being rushed forward toward the entrance gate to the ride.  The guys operating that day couldn’t have known I’d just met this girl seconds earlier when my mom accosted her in line.  Later, I remember looking down from my vantagepoint and seeing my mom’s cryptic grin–something that, then, made me think she was pleased by seeing her baby grow up.  Nope.  It was definitely because she got me in the end for back-talking her.

The girl was as forgettable as this tiny memoir.  She had long skinny legs and our knees touched once or twice as the motion of the mid-air car swayed us around.  I’m sure I didn’t talk to her.  I told the story several times at school the following year and probably even wrote about it then.  

It’s well over twenty years later, and I can still see those bare skinny knees and my mom’s devilish grin a few dozen yards below me.  

Story Idea from Unsuspecting Colleague

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I met a teacher from a neighboring school corporation this week. She has spent something like 20 years volunteering in Belize to help keep schools open.  Amazing stuff!  She shared the following anecdote that sparked an interest in me for perhaps a future essay or short story:

In Belize (and perhaps elsewhere) it is customary for parents of newborns to wait 30 full days before naming the child.  The rationale is twofold:  one, sadly, is due to the rather high infant mortality rate in that country; the second reason is that the parents have about a month for the child to develop a personality so they can assign the most appropriate name.

I find the first part hauntingly sad and the second rather beautiful.

800+ words – Short Story involving an heirloom

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**An impromptu short story I put together today**

Gina’s last wish was to be at her grandmother’s dust-riddled apartment a full hour away from work.  Her boss had okayed her absence under these circumstances, but she knew he had to say that and most likely did not mean it.  After only being there for three months, she’d figured out that Jim Michaels was a complete asshole but was probably her best bet at having a shot at a real publisher.

It’s not that Gina and her grandmother fought or had some sort of long-standing feud.  Nor did she have any disdain for either of her parents, siblings, cousins, aunts, or uncles.  She just simply hated funerals.  Her abhorrence of the traditional, and at times quite ceremonial, send off into the ground, was for Gina a collosal waste of time, money, and energy.  Of course, she knew she could not share these ideas with anyone–especially today, since it was going to be the last time anyone ever saw her grandmother’s actual face.

“When you’re dead,  you’re dead,” she’d argued to a friend once over coffee.  “Do me a favor, Jeanette.  Don’t even tell my parents I’m dead when I’m gone.  It’ll totally fuck up their plans.”

Rightfully so, this bothered Gina’s friend.  However, it had bothered her so much that Jeanette contacted a therapist without Gina’s knowledge or consent.  When the initial appointment time came, Gina was willing to talk to the guy but assured her longtime friend that she was only going because it meant something to Jeanette.  It was the only session.

After her grandmother’s small funeral, there was a smaller reception and some friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend had catered in some coffeecake and chicken salad sandwiches, apparently two of Grandma Lola’s favorites.

“Gina, do you have to head back tonight?” her mother asked without looking at her.  The sandwiches were gone, and a pitiful amount of crumbs covered the bottom of the second of two cakepans.

“Mom, I told you earlier,” she said.  “Dad?” It was evident that her impatience with her mother would not be put on hold during this somber late afternoon.

Her dad cleared his throat.  “We just thought, hon, that you could come to the house.  We…have something to discuss.”

Gina’s eyes scanned the room.  Her brothers and cousins were watching an evidently amusing video on one of their phones.  Kade, the oldest of the cousins, spat out brown crumbs at the climactic moment.

“Can’t you just tell me here?  I really can’t risk oversleeping and being late.”

Her parents peered into each others’ eyes.  It wasn’t an amorous glare, though.  Gina wondered if they had ever looked at each other the way they do in movies in theaters and the ones in her head when she reads.

The question remained unanswered and was interrupted by a slow series of family departures.  Everyone bid everyone else well.  The male cousins shared bizarre streetgang handshakes; the girls pecked each others’ cheeks–both were recurring actions that Gina could not comprehend but simply, shyly shrugged off this time.

“Gina,” her mother said as she swept away the crumbs from a central table into one of the two pans.  “My mother had a will.  Everyone is meeting tomorrow to discuss it before we go to lunch.”

“Mom, I just can’t…”

Her mother held up a hand.  “I know.  I understand.  Duty calls.”  She sighed and straightened the area where an apron would be if she’d had one on.

Without Gina realizing it, the room had emptied and Gina suddenly felt like she was in the principal’s office.

“I spoke with the attorney who handles…these things.”

“Deaths?”

Her mother bit her lower lip.  “Yes.”  She softened, realizing perhaps that she didn’t need to sugarcoat mortality with her grown daughter.

Gina watched her mother’s eyes drift to the side.  “My mom was…all my life, she was pretty much an open book.  What is it?” she sort of laughed.  “She wore her heart on her sleeve?”

“Guess so.  She didn’t really mix feelings, did she?”

“No, we girls always knew immediately when she was mad at one or all of us.”   She bit that lip again and examined the tiled floor.

“The woman worked harder after Grandpa got sick than she or anyone else I’ve known has their entire lives.”

“I know what you mean,” Gina said.  “Feels like we saw her less and less when I was in high school.”

“Well,” her mom said.  “She sure was tricky about everything.”

“What do you mean?”

That small laugh again.  “It turns out that…well, you know how she used to tell you stories when you slept over at her house?”

Gina nodded.

“Do you remember what you talked about after the stories?”

“Well,” Gina said.  “I remember she always wanted me to have some…plan.  You know?  Where am I going to school?  When or if I want to marry, travel the world, have kids…that type of stuff?”

“Do you remember any of your answers?”

“Mom, that had to be…” she quickly calulated…over twenty years ago.  Even if I could remember it obviously hasn’t come true.”  Her eyes went downward.  “Kids’ dreams never come true.”

“Here.”

Gina’s eyes were back up and say an old brown leather woman’s pocketbook.

“What’s this?”

“It was hers.  Her attorney says this is what she’s left you.”

“Gee,” she said, biting her lower lip.  “I’m so…moved.”

Her mother began to say one thing but switched gears.  “Trust me.  I’ll be there’s a reason.”

She unsnapped the lone button and withdrew a plane ticket and a handwritten note, signed by the deceased.

“What’s it say?” her mother asked.

“‘Darling Gina,’” she read.  “She hasn’t called me that in years, Mom.”

Her eyes watered.  “I know.”

“‘I’ll make this quick because I don’t like to waste time.  I’ve left each of you children $25,000 from…well, let’s just say some money I earned over my life.  You are hereby ordered to quit that job you told me about a month or so ago and get to Europe.  I don’t care how long you stay or if you even come back.  The world is too big to stay in one place though.’”

“Well, Gina?  Surprised?”

“Nothing that woman surpises me anymore.”

700+ Words (autobio of parent)

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**Again, the prompt was interesting at first, but then it took a turn as I continued…***

I grew up in the United States.  It’s hard to say which location to call the home of my childhood because I spent time in Indiana and Texas, two states with much different lifestyles–at least back then they were.  In Texas, I grew up believing that God had not only invented football, but He had set up HQ in the western part of the state.  That’s great if you want to love the sport, but I preferred my pencils and canvases.

I was born over a dozen years after my lone sibling.  I made friends, of course, but those friendships back then did not have the sustainability after leaving town that young people have today.  I finished high school in the late 50s in the South.  I had always thought that equality for all was a no-brainer, but who really cared what a middle-class white girl thought back then?  I trumped off to school to study art–specifically interior design–but couldn’t finish my degree.

That’s when I made the leap to the west coast.  I lived with a friend outside of Los Angeles for some time before I met someone.  That relationship damaged my opinion of men in those days.  We were together arguably way longer than we should have been, but we did produce two sons.  When our relationship became, in my eyes, the environment my boys were not going to live in, we left.  Three of us.  On a plane.  And we joined my mother in Indiana.  Those boys were about 6 and nearly 2 at the time.

The closest their father ever got to them from then on was in the form of support checks that arrived rather infrequently before they completely stopped around eight years after moving.

But my boys flourished in Indiana.  With the help of their “Gram” we four figured things out.  I missed a lot of concerts and games, but I also had a steady job for the rest of my working days.

I became a grandmother for the first time in 1994, a second time in 1996; more recently, my other son has become a father to two as well (2012 and 2014).  My mother passed in 2003 at the ripe age of 95.  I’ve lived in the same house I did since we moved here in 1978.  Upon my retirement, I found a lot of opportunities to return to my love of the arts, but recently my budget won’t allow those niceties.

I’m a reader.  I’ve loved books as long as I can remember and have spent way too much money on first editions of contemporary authors such as Maeve Binchy, John Grisham, Danielle Steele (years ago), and Sue Grafton.  I raised two boys who share so many personality traits, but only one is a reader.  My older son has always been a numbers and technology person.

One of my regrets as a younger mother was the period when I smoked.  I used to smoke Salems, and I never did it in front of my boys.  The house has a basement, and when I was needing it most, I simply smoked down there–usually after they were asleep.  When my work shift changed in the 90s, I smoked less and less and eventually decided to quit.  Like everyone else who quits, I replaced those cigarettes with snacks, which of course was just as unhealthy but more accepted by society for some reason.  I smoked for the same reasons other people smoke, snack, run, drink, paint, or destroy—because it was my outlet of tension.  I rarely even finished most of the cigarettes I lit.

As a mother, I found the most effective tool to curtail bad behavior was a combination of stern dissatisfaction and squelching episodes of frustration.  I spanked when it seemed that nothing else would get my point across.  I preferred laughing with them most of the time.  Like a lot of parents, I probably let them both get away with more than I should.  But during that, I instilled in them respect for all–women especially–and that hard work can pay off.  Both my boys, ironically, are procrastinators more often than I’d wished they’d be.  I love that they both do whatever they can for me.  I must have done a few things right over the years.

Fighting Friends – Reflective Essay

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I can remember being part of organized fighting.

Given my current personality, that sentence is probably a bit of a shock.  What may be more unsettling is that my opponent was my best friend, and his father is a powerful lawyer.  How I sidestepped litigation as an adolescent I’ll never know.

Our older brothers were in on it.  In fact, they were the chief organizers.  The setting was an area between my front porch and a busy street in Terre Haute.  While the frequency of these fights seems to be limited, the memory of engaging in legitimate hand-to-hand fighting with my best friend shall never escape me.  We were boys, and I suppose boys fight.

Our brothers, though, had a specific agenda in mind.  One of the Rocky films had been released and was quite popular.  If I had to guess, it was on HBO at the time.  A lot.  Nine to Five was running on a regular cycle on the same channel, so perhaps I’m grateful they didn’t have us dress in women’s clothes and perform women’s lib diatribes while trying to keep Dolly Parton balloon boobs from exploding inside our shirts.

I specifically recall our brothers feeding us the lines from Rocky and Apollo Creed just before their final official fight.

Creed:  I’m gonna bust you up.

Rocky:  Go for it.

For some reason, I always had to play Creed.  Anyway, I’m thankful that YouTube was not around in those days because I would be absolutely devastated to see myself “fight” my friend.  My brothers never got in real trouble for orchestrating these vicious skits, but I’m still considering “bustin’ them up” about it.

It Starts With a Football

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This blog starts with a football.  By no means should it be imagined by you, dear reader, as an ordinary football.  I could probably spend the next several hundred words describing the ball in distinct detail (e.g. number of laces intact versus those that are not), but let me save you a little time and just say this.  It’s old.  It’s not completely inflated.  It’s worn in the expected places.  But that’s not what intrigued me the moment I saw it.  I felt there was a story hovering over it.

[background info]  Perhaps what’s mildly interesting about how it came into my possession was that I did something I do not normally do.  At a garage sale in a strange town, I perused a few items on a table in the garage of a couple who were probably well into their seventies.  The ball was not on the table, but rather, on a shelf in plain sight right behind one of the tables, so instead of leaving it be, I asked the homeowner about the ball.

So, here are my initial thoughts jotted down moments after buying the football.  [and today’s edits in brackets]

It was the first nice April Saturday of the year.  [You know, that first spring weekend that announces with a commanding WHOOSH that winter is deceased.]  Among commemorative glasses, Bible audio tapes for twenty-five cents apiece, and a quantity of children’s apparel that makes one wonder how any child on this earth could ever be without clothing, a dented [leather] football protrudes from a transparent plastic tub designed for inconspicuous placement beneath a bed.   [This garage sale], a biannual event, where proprietors along the well-lamped lawns and cul-de-sacs clean out their closets and guest rooms and essentially exchange wares, [received gifts, and memories, has seen more populated times.  Word has it that, just a few years earlier, two of every three houses participated while only now a mere one in four opens its garage doors for the public sale.] It is behind a makeshift display table in the garage of Mr. and Mrs. Suburbia, Ret.

The first item to catch our eyes was a Royal typewriter bolted to a metal desk with flanked folding shelves and a computer-generated sign identifying a suggested price of twenty-five American dollars, crossed out with a twenty-percent discount.  The sellers’ chief incentive to any prospective consumer included a typewriter manual, [which was hanging loosely inside the comfort of a transparent three-ring sleeve and attached via a chain–the type often found dangling from a standard household ceiling fan.

The gentlewoman, upon my respectful summons, informs me that she would need to speak to her husband concerning my inquiry into the availability of the ball.  She opens a flip phone, dials, and informs a stranger beside her that he’s inside and that calling him is much easier than searching for him indoors.  A moment passes and he’s standing beside me.  Sporting a bright red polo and pleated khaki pants, he is a full six inches taller than his wife and carries himself the way I’ve always pictured J. D. Salinger did at that age.  Upon expressing my interest in the football on the shelf,] a gleam of the past crosses the old man’s eyes.  He chokes out the words “Couple bucks if you want it.”  [Then, what feels like a lifetime of Polaroids catapult through both our minds–I imagine the hours logged with his unseen son decades ago in the yard just a few feet away.  I imagine laughter from the boy and pride from this man.  It’s all of a sudden incredibly simple to look at their lawn and visualize heroic catches and slides all involving this two-dollar ball.]

I buy the ball, and walk away wondering if he regretted selling it.  He’s not selling the memory and he knows that no one will ever relieve him of his early days as a father.  This ball.  This icon of Americana, transcends–and becomes more than a simple Saturday transaction between strangers and fathers.