[Activity 2] “The Hell is This?”

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The following is just Steps 1 and 2 from the previous writing activity. We did this in my graduate fiction writing workshop this week (Jan. 16, 2019).  Here’s what I came up with in my 5 minutes:


Shiny. That’s what drew me close. And as I approached it, my own image enlarged – me walking, reaching toward my own outstretched hand. Two gaping depths at the top. My investigative fingers soon found sharp metal strips along the inside. I withdrew them and peered in to discover thick metal rods–one in each slot, parallel to the tabletop.  Carefully, I dip my fingers in again to learn that each rod is bouncy. I turn the reflective round box and find a black spindle encircled with miniature lines and symbols.  Finally, I see a lever on the side’s center, which I learn enables me to lower the metal rods inside to a locked position.

UWT #2 – “Buttering the Bread”

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Years ago, my creative writing instructor gave a short lecture during a workshop about this concept.  He may or may not have called it “Buttering the Bread” but that’s what I’ve called it for years.  Consider this type of storytelling and consider the point in it where you lose interest.

Tom got hungry, so he went downstairs for breakfast.  He normally ate toast, so he decided to open the breadbox, remove the Wonder bread, untwist the tie, and withdraw two flimsy slices.  Customarily, he re-tied the bread and returned it to its resting spot within the fly-free confines of the box.  Taking two steps east, he placed each slice in the toaster and pressed the lever with no more or no less authority than any other day.  He watched as the wired inside his dorm-room toaster heated to a bursting orange and sizzling red state.  Just when he could not wait any longer, the toast appeared innocently.  Tom took the butter from the refrigerator.  It was cold and hard to spread.  He’d learned from his grandmother that he could heat his knife quickly by holding it under hot running water.  It worked again, and he padded each slice with a unhealthy square of the stuff everyone calls butter but is actually margarine.  Tom had a big day ahead since it was his first interview, and he wanted to make sure he did not leave the house hungry.

—or—

Tom made some toast as he always does and thought about his interview.

Granted, the first one is considerably longer, but is it good writing?  Is it significant to the events of the story?  Is the author adding anything worthwhile?  Does it seem, perhaps, that he is just padding his word count total?

No.  No.  No.  Yes.

Don’t butter the bread.  Get to it and move forward.

Tennisball

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Tennisball

When I was in the womb, I’m told, I attended a few Dodger games a Chavez-Ravine.  A few years later, a picture of me indicates that someone encouraged me to wear a Yankees shirt.  When I was six, the St. Louis Cardinals played the Milwaukee Brewers in the 1982 World Series.  Mom and I watched those games in Indiana, and I became not only hooked on the Redbirds but also an immense fan of the game.  I played in an organized league of some sort from age five through fifteen.  The tail end of my career is not worth discussing, but being on the field during a game was always the highlight of my day.

Throughout my childhood, my friends and I typically got together and played at either the nearby elementary schoolyard or the empty space between my house and my friend Mike’s house. It became a rectangular baseball field—or perhaps, baseball played on a football field.  I’ve never measured the lot’s size, but it seems to me that it was about fifty yards of fairly even terrain.  Conveniently, there were two bushes placed against each house, which served as our first- and third bases.  Home plate was usually signified by an unused glove or extra hat.  The pitcher threw north, and batters tried to hit a ball south past the alleyway and over my elderly neighbor Mr. Brines’ fence.

By about the time I was seven and my brother was on the brink of teenage-dom, we were instructed not to use a regular baseball during our games.  While we hadn’t broken any windows, we had to use a tennis ball as a substitute.  Obviously, this felt inauthentic—that is, until the first one of us connected on a softly tossed pitch and sent that green Penn Number 1 sailing high above the trees several yards beyond Mr. Brines’ fence line.  The tops of those trees must have been thirty or forty feet in the air.  The summer wind would make them dance left and right, creating a moving target for my black Louisville Slugger aluminum bat.

At ten years old, I stood at the north end over my makeshift home plate and faced one of my best friends, a freckled red-haired kid named Jason.  With no helmet on and batting gloves completely unnecessary, I urged him to send one to me that I could launch.  Our rules for home run derby allowed ten swings or five outs, whichever came first. Any ball hit that didn’t make it over the garage and beyond the alley was considered an out.

Very distinctly, I can recall squeezing that bat and awaiting the frayed tennis ball.  I focused on Jason’s freckled countenance and mimicked the batting stance repertoire of some Major Leaguer, daring Jason to toss it into my wheelhouse—a term our coach had ingrained in our heads during every practice and game that summer.  I wanted to hit one out so badly.  I shifted my eyes from his pasty grin to the ball he held.  I didn’t miss that first pitch and sent a towering ball over those dancing leaves.  That afternoon, at ten years old, I felt I conquered summer.

Final Creative Writing Class Portfolio – Two Poems

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Here are two poems I’ve been working on for the past couple of weeks.  They have been revised three times, but I’m not ready to say they are in their final form.  As always, I welcome feedback from all of you!

“Dormant in the Corner”

Ironically,

I am constantly

Immobile, which

Defeats my man-

Ufactured purpose

To provide a place

For my owners to

Walk, jog, or run.  I

Don’t think they made

Me to serve as more

Closet space, even

Though I hold empty

Plastic clothes hangers

And am adorned with

Monday’s boxer shorts

All week long.  I should

Be running at 5.0 on a

Moderate incline and not

Gather dust and serve as

A hiding place for the small

Boy they only yell at when

He comes close to me.

I remember when these

Two opened my box and

Marveled at my features:

A book rack, two cup

Holders, and a digital

Readout that accurately

Measures their health.  I’m

Supposed to be helping

Them lose weight, gain

Strength, and lengthen

Their lives.  Due to

Inactivity on both

Of our parts,

Their bones

Deteriorate

And my
Resale

Value

Goes.

When they

Are both awake

In bed on the other

Side of this room, I

Hear them, once

In a while, discuss

Parting with me

and admitting

They don’t

Use me.

I have,

they

say,

be

co

me

an

ey

es

or

e.

He always says he’s starting Monday.

She laughs and knows he won’t.

At least she has the dignity

Not to lie as she balls

Up her candy wrap

pers and complains

again about her

lower back

hurting

in the

same

spot

as

l

a

s

t

t

i

m

e


“Patience”

It’s four minutes after two in the morning

And raining like crazy out there

Beyond the automatic doors

That swoosh when people enter or exit

Or sometimes for no discernable reason.

I’m sitting beside a woman who wears

A winter coat, but it’s April.  I sense

That she’s not nearly as cold as I am

And perhaps has been here before.

Her steady, plain face is remarkably relaxed

While the rest of us toe-tap our nerves

into flat grooves in the thin carpet.

I’ve never been a nail-biter, but

It’s tempting.  On the suspended television

In one corner, a popular syndicated emergency

Room show illuminates an otherwise dreary

Real E.R. and I wonder why no one wants to turn the channel.
It occurs to me that the show was always twenty percent

Medical expertise and eighty percent Hope.  Neither the woman

Beside me nor anyone else here is watching.  But we all

Probably could use hope.  Faith.  Something to keep us

Here and not just give up.

My wife has been back there

For nineteen minutes and I’ve thought dreadful things

About our future son who may not survive.  I clench my

Hands in frustration and prayer.  They can’t make

Me sit here like this much longer.

The episode ends

The credits roll

The woman in the faded burgundy coat

Is asleep and clutching a picture

Of a small smiling child.

I stare at it for far too long.

So long in fact that I didn’t

Hear them call my name

And wheel out my family.

Creative Writing Class – Week 9 (Revised Fiction)

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Note:  This is a recent piece that got a little polished this week.  I’m still not calling it a final draft, but it’s a tad better and (I hope) clearer.

I appreciate any and all critiques.  I want to do this well…I’m too old to get defensive about my amateur work 🙂

Cushion

The moment my marriage changed, my husband Marv was snoozing on the beige felt couch we picked out together over twenty years earlier.  I think it’s in fine condition, but our children are ready to buy us one if we don’t do it ourselves, or so they say.  Granted, he had woken up only a few hours earlier that morning because, as he always says, he can’t stop being an early riser.  Let me tell you, when we were younger, that expression had a completely different meaning!

I had just finished the previous night’s dishes.  I had made him pork chops, but I had also taken a late-night call from Debbie Wasnidge, who had no one else to talk to about what she and her therapist discussed.

The nature of this marital change was one that would make his father—God rest his soul—disown him and his children abhor him.  Okay, maybe that’s a little rough.  He’s my husband, so I should start a little differently and accurately.  Marv has had commitment issues, but then again, what man hasn’t?  Whether it be with me or his work; he has always seemed to lack follow-through.  When we first started dating–can it be thirty years ago, really?–he was young.  I was too, but he was adventurous.  He had ambition.  “Driven” was the first word I used to describe him to my father the week before Marv’s first Thanksgiving at my parents’ house back in 1977.

As a young father, Marv immersed himself in our children.  He didn’t quite live vicariously through them or anything, but he certainly put his own goals aside–for decades–and helped me raise them to be responsible adults.  We succeeded as parents, but not as a couple.

Before he actually retired, he began talking about it whenever our children were all home.  He didn’t do it in hopes of having some grand, celebratory send-off or anything; he probably just liked hearing himself say it more often.  You know, to make it more real.  Like when you teach someone else a skill–you tend to learn more about the skill the longer you explain it.  Perhaps surprisingly, the children—all three of them–were relatively indifferent toward his choice to let go.  They certainly didn’t care about the financial rationale, which evolved as the overwhelming theme of his narratives.

Also, before he stopped working for good last spring, I began to see that old spark.  Until then, our entire relationship had accumulated decades of normalcy.  The old spark to which I now speak contained messages of road trips, new hobbies, extravagant dinners–the things we did before having children and responsibilities.

However, over the last seven months, I have realized they were just words.  Then I began to reflect throughout our marriage how often he did that.  Simply put, he has always calmed me down with words, filling me with so many hopes that never took flight.  Do I feel manipulated?  A little.  However, did I adopt and use the same behavior and use it toward him–and our children?  I’d be lying if I said no.

Marv has had an affair.

I still struggle with putting those words in a sentence like that.  Part of me would have rather said “Marv has Stage IV testicular cancer.”

It began that morning with me answering the phone, even though those large white words “Unknown Number” appeared clear as day.  Debbie Wasnidge’s therapist might offer a solid analysis as to why someone my age would wish to suddenly answer the phone in situations such as these.

            Don’t you know about telemarketers, Susan?

            Are you aware that hackers exist, Susan?

            People will go to great lengths to hide their identity, Susan.  Just don’t answer it.

Marv had been up for his daily walk but had come back only to fall asleep again while watching one of those silly small claims court programs.  He had been sleeping more and more, and I had been having trouble doing as much as I would have liked to do around the house.  With the dishes finally finished and my feet encouraging me to rest,  I thought about reading.  I’d donated my Mary Higgins Clarks to the church rummage sale two weeks earlier and had not found anyone else worth reading yet.  When you age, you tend to worry about odd things connected with your mortality such as “What if I start a book series and never get a chance to finish it before I die?”  Debbie Wasnidge had tried to force one of her trashy naked cover books to me, but I had respectfully declined.

So after I answered the unknown number and had listened to that nervous young woman speak, I only remember staring into my cooled chamomile tea.

“Ma’am,” she said after a long pause.  She thought I’d hung up, I suppose.

“Yes, I’m here.”  I cleared my throat but didn’t plan to say anything else.

She breathed deeply.  “I can only imagine how upset this makes you.  Please know this was a call I’d hesitated making for some time.”

It didn’t help, but I was glad she said it.

“You have to know, ma’am, that whatever happened between your husband and my mother had to have been short term at best.  For years, I was told my father died in a fishing accident and never had any reason to doubt my mother.  Who does at that age, you know?”

I thought of our kids and the few white lies I had dispelled whenever I was forced to field life’s tougher inquisitions.  I had to agree with her.

“Ma’am?”

“Yes, I’m here.  I’m sorry. I’m…”
“I understand,” she said.

She didn’t—no one who has not gone through this could—but I stayed mute and examined the arrangement of tea grains at the bottom of my #1 Mom mug.

“My mother and I have always been fairly honest with one another.  I’m an only child and she never re-married.”

Re-married?”

“Excuse me.  No.  Never married.  Forgive me, I’m so used to telling this story under my previous assumptions of what happened to my father.”

A long pause.  The mere idea that Marv had had a whole other marriage to attend to tackled my ticker, which Dr. Patel said needs “nourishment” and “rest.”

“Ma’am?”

“Yes, I’m here.”  I swallowed and rubbed my free hand along my thigh. “You were saying?”

She was crying.  I had no idea what she looked like, but for reasons I cannot still fathom, I pictured a thin woman beside a window–perhaps in a hotel–putting the phone to her chest to mute her uncontrollable bursts of emotion.

She sniffled.  “My fiancé,”

“Pardon me?”
For a few seconds more I listened to her attempt to overcome her obvious attachment to whatever she was about to say.  I took the phone away and listened closely for words, not sobs.

“A medical history…” she eventually said.  “I was sick a little while ago and eventually ended up talking to my GP about my history.”

Over the next few minutes, I learned that her mother had gone with her, offering the expected level of comfort in that situation.  The doctor sensed something from the mother once questions about the woman’s father–evidently my husband–came up.  He casually stepped out of the exam room with her mother.  She said she only heard muffled voices after that.  Then, however, her mother came back into the room alone and broke the news about her father not dying years ago as she had described.

“Ma’am?” she asked.

“I’m here.” Then I interrupted her before she could continue.  “Forgive me, though.  How did you happen to call me about this?”

She began to answer but I stopped her again.  Weirdly, it felt good.  I controlled the moment.

“How am I to know any of this is true?  What is it you want?  Why am I still talking to you?”

She must have sensed my urgent frustration because she pleaded with me not to hang up.  “I’m sorry, ma’am.  I know it’s…well, this whole thing for me has been…”

She eventually got around to explain her rather rudimentary detective skills.  Marv, unbeknownst to me, had succumbed to our children’s request for us to join Facebook.  The woman with whom I was now speaking had found him in a matter of moments.

I stood to take my mug to the sink when I heard Marv stretch.  Men his age are incapable of stretching soundlessly.   I stepped out to the sun room and glared at the empty grass where our children had played and yelped.

“You make coffee?” he asked.  I had assumed he was still on the couch but upright and probably doing that thing with his mouth that he knows I hate.

Then I listened to him ease to the kitchen.  I didn’t have to turn my head to know he was staring at the empty carafe.

“Miss?” I whispered.

“Yes, I’m here.”

“Could you give me your mother’s name?  Perhaps where she was living when you were born?”

She provided both, the second as if she were reading from the notes she’d scribbled on the thin pad hotels provide.

“I want you to call back in a few minutes.  Rather, is your mother around?”

“No.”

“Well, then,” I thought.  “Call back anyway and identify yourself as your mother.  Say nothing more.  My husband will answer it, and I’ll watch his face while you explain to him what you’re telling me.”

“I’m…I mean…okay, but…”

“It’ll be fine dear.  I have to do a little acting here for him to pick up.”
Marv cleared his throat and hollered, “You want some?”  I heard him unlocking the clasped canister.

“Miss?”

“Yes.  I’m here.”

“Ten minutes, okay?”

“Okay.  But please know my doctor needs my family history this afternoon.”

“Just call.”

I clicked End without saying anything formal and walked into the kitchen. “No, hon.  None for me.  I had tea earlier.”  He was filling up the carafe at the sink.  I placed my phone on the counter at the room’s threshold into the dining room.

“Marv?”

“Yeah, hon?”

“When was the last time you took me out for brunch?”

He smiled but did not look up and stopped the water.  “This morning, looks like.”

“Maybe look at some new sofas?”

“Anything, dear.”

He kissed my cheek.  Leaving the carafe beside the sink, he tucked in his shirt and smoothed his white hair.

He joined me at the doorway.  “Need your phone?” he said as he took his keys from the wooden Home key rack by the door.

“Don’t think so,” I grinned.  “Nobody calls anyway.”

Quick Vent!

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I’m taking this 200-level creative writing class.  I like that I’m writing more stuff, but the critiques from my classmates and instructor leave much to be desired.  Today, I received “notes” from one of my online classmates about my revised story.  The bulk of Student X’s comments were something like this:

“It read like a story.  I get sleepy when I read stories.  I prefer poems because I write those.”

I’m not kidding.

There are only 11 students in this online class, and each of my journals and short activities has received one of these three comments from the instructor.

“Nicely done.”   “Well done.”   “Good job.”

That’s all the instructor says.

Rant over…good night, WordPress!

Creative Writing Class – Week 7 Journal

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I’ll just quickly share this one too.  We were assigned to choose one of five cliches and, using concrete details instead of the cliche, create a fictional setting in at least 3 paragraphs/300 words.

“Black Coffee”

Tommy says I shouldn’t, but I want to buy the man some black coffee.  “What if he doesn’t drink coffee?” Tommy asks, as we turn a corner and put our hands in our pockets at the same time.  A brittle gust of wind smacks our faces, as if it was pushing us away from the Bucks game we’ve been waiting to go to for seven weeks.  Our mom got us tickets for Christmas.  The man we had seen is always in front of the same building.  I think it’s one of those hostels I’ve heard about.  From fifty yards away, no one could discern that an actual man was sitting there beside the canopied stairway.

The light has just changed and we’re going to have to stand at the intersection for at least thirty seconds.  It never seems like much when it’s a TV commercial or in line at Starbuck’s.  Tommy’s always braved the cold, though tonight we’re both wearing long-sleeved flannel shirts.  I would bet anything he’s just waiting for me to rub my own arms before he does, as if it was some sort of masculinity contest.  A crowd gathers at the light, and the wind is stifled slightly.  Just as the tips of my fingers reach the top edge of my pocket, the light changes and we’re moving.  This blood flowing through my active body will keep me warm for the next several blocks.  It’s my first NBA game, too, so the thread of adreneline and excitement helps too.  I stare at my feet and the blackened concrete as we cross, but I’m only thinking about the poor man outside the hostel.

Inside, the arena is buzzing with excitements because the previous season’s champions are visiting our small market team.  The seats Mom bought us aren’t very close to the action at all, but we do have a great vantagepoint for the entire arena.  Only a sparce number of seats go unfilled by halftime.  The second half becomes a  little hazier because Tommy and I get drunk without really wanting to.  I don’t think about what my credit card bill will look like next month.  The visitors stomp our hometown boys, but it was a fun experience.  We’re too old to truly care of our team wins or loses.  Nowadays, it’s just about going out as two brothers, having some beers, and enjoying a carefree night.   We take a cab back to our cars several blocks away, and the driver says something about some poor soul by the hostel being loaded into the coroner’s van.  Tommy laughs because he always laughs when he drinks.