Monday, August 31, 2009

I Got By With a Little Help From My Friends

Today marks the end of the "Write For Fifteen Minutes A Day" Challenge. August 31. I gave myself a pat on the back, a congratulatory handshake, and a hard High Five. I did it. I wrote every day this month for at least 15 minutes. I'm proud of some of my writing, but other days I coughed up something just so I could say I did it. On those days, I tried to keep some sage advice from my friend, Jennifer Brown, the author of Hate List, due to be released tomorrow. Her advice was something along the lines of, "As long as you realize and accept that most of what you write will be crap, then you'll be just fine." Gotta love Jen!

Laurie Halse Anderson gave us our last writing prompt this morning. She simply asked, "What worked for you this month?" What worked for me was that I committed myself to the challenge on August 1 with a determination to see this through to the end. But I didn't just commit to it mentally. I said it out loud to people. I wrote about it on my blog. I posted it on my Facebook page a few times. Surprisingly, a few people paid attention and held me accountable for my words, both spoken and written.

Jennifer Brown told me that she bookmarked my blog. Well, the pressure was on from the start! If Jen could pound out thousands of words daily and get a novel published, I could certainly write for 15 minutes each day. To not do so would make me, well, a weenie. Or a bigger weenie than I already am.

Kelly M. was my BFF in junior high and most of high school before she moved out of state. I hadn't talked to her in years, and we reconnected on Facebook. She isn't an FB crackhead, but when she did check in she took time to ask me how the writing was going. Wow.

I met Val T. when I taught middle school in Pennsylvania. She is one of the few people I've stayed in touch with since I've moved back. We understand each other well, especially when it comes to the topics of motherhood, struggling learners, books, and politics. She began reading my blog recently and has been encouraging me to keep it up.

Before taking on this challenge, I had forgotten how far a little spark of encouragement can take a person. I'm a little sad and a tad scared that the challenge is over. Laurie's quotes, advice, and prompts provided motivation, especially on days when I couldn't think of a thing to write about or when I didn't feel like writing. I feel somewhat like a painter who peers down from her scaffolding only to discover that it has collapsed beneath her. My choices are to hang on for dear life and hope for the best, or to fall far and fast.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

WFMAD Day 26

I can't believe it's Day 26 already! Only five more days left in the month, and only five more days of the writing challenge. I've been reflecting on this journey and realized how heavily I relied on the prompts earlier in the month. Writing was so hard and felt so foreign. But I know I've grown and become more comfortable because for the past several days, I've been doing my own thing. Blogging. Creating new characters. Developing existing characters. Writing new scenes. Trying new ideas and genres.

My plan for September is to walk my writing path. This means going back through everything I've written in the past month and deciding what excites me enough to expand it, what needs to be shoved into the back of a drawer never again to see the light of day, and what needs major editing. I'm already looking forward to it. I haven't really reread anything I've written. My only goal was to write something every day.

I spent a great portion of this morning organizing items for a garage sale I'm planning for next month. It will be the third garage sale of my life. Most of the items for sale belong to the peeps. I thought nostalgia would strike as I dug through baby clothes and toys. While each object conjured a memory and served as a snapshot of a moment in their lives, they didn't make me sad. Instead I felt an overwhelming sense of amazement and accomplishment.

Some of the toys - the farm that plays "Old MacDonald" over and over and over and over and over and then oinks, quacks, and moos over and over and over and over and over or the roughed-up, diaper-clad Elmo that sings "Elmo loves to go up up. Up Up Elmo. Thanks for picking Elmo up. Hug Elmo today!" over and over and over and over and over - I'm not going to miss. Giddiness flowed through my body as I pasted a neon disk with a dollar sign on to those toys. And I couldn't help but grin with the thought of the next unwitting parent or grandparent who would take these devil toys home with them. But other toys made me realize how far the peeps have come intellectually and developmentally over the past year. The toys they cherish now are vastly different than the ones they loved just a few months ago. The peeps are into reading books with plots; building towers, castles, and the Yellow Brick Road; playing "Little Red Riding Hood" with a scrap of red fabric; and working intricate wooden puzzles. No. Their old toys didn't make me pine for the old days. They had the opposite effect: They made me excited about what the future holds for them.

I can say the same for myself. As the WFMAD Challenge winds down, I am filled with a sense of personal accomplishment and I am excited about what the future holds for this new part of my life.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Game On: A Tale of Passive-Aggressive Competitiveness

Tonight is date night, so this will be quick, simple, and random. I have a glass of Boulevard Sixth Glass waiting for me upstairs and a movie queued in the DVD player ("Public Enemy" or "Public Enemies." One has Johnny Depp and is recent. The other stars a young James Cagney in the pre-code days. We're watching the latter. I get the titles criss-crossed).

We had a crazy day today, and I found myself mowing the backyard for the first time since we moved back to Missouri last year. In my bachelorette days, I mowed my own yard and really enjoyed it. When Mark and I got hitched almost eight years ago, he took over the mowing duties. I think it had something to do with the fact that the yard always looked like Mr. Magoo's Lawn Service had serviced our yard when I finished. I mow similar to how I vacuum. It drives Mark crazy. So, he pretty much always mows.

But today I found myself mowing the backyard and was pleased to discover that I still love it. For me, mowing means a stretch of solitude, time to think through problems, plan a schedule, work out aggressions. It's the good kind of sweaty exercise.

It also renewed a long-dormant spark in my spirit. When I offered to mow, Mark followed me into the garage so could start the mower. He said the machine was hard to start and that I wouldn't be able to do it.

ALERT! ALERT! The phrase, "You can't do it," puts me up a tree and has me pulling on my mental boxing gloves. The thought that someone thinks I'm incapable of something - anything - pulls my competitive streak front and center. By nature, I'm really not competitive. But when someone blatantly makes it a competition or slaps me with a challenge, watch out. You are toast. I love that about myself.

Some examples:

College, Freshman Year: My dorm mate and I made it through the first semester before we decided we really didn't like each other. She waltzed into our room one day (post-friendship) and bragged loudly about how many sit ups she did in PE. She fancied herself an athlete and knew that I didn't have a sporting bone in my body. When it came my turn for the sit up pre-test, my only goal was to beat her by one sit up. And I did. Actually I beat her by quite a few more than one. College algebra? She got a "D" and had to retake the class. I signed up for the same professor and eeked out a "C." SNAP. BURN. Is that toast I smell?

College Graduation: After my second year of college, I decided to ditch the idea of becoming a teacher (long story). Instead, I earned a B.A. in English. My parents fretted endlessly over my decision. I could tell by their casual comments and blatant criticisms that they thought I had morphed into their loser daughter who would live with them for the rest of their lives. After all, what can a person do with an English degree? Game on. I built a successful corporate career that brought opportunities I never thought I would experience. I've since traded that life in for one in the public sector - as a teacher.

Life in General: There is a downside to having a passive-aggressive competitive edge. The one downer that comes to mind involves alcohol. In my younger days, if someone tried to cut off the flow of adult beverages before I thought I was ready, all hell broke loose. It took many quite a few years and quite a few doozy hangovers before I listened to the little voice in my head that agreed with alcohol cutter-offer.

I hadn't felt that spark of confidence and competitiveness for quite awhile. It poked its head out today. I marched out to the garage in my orange Saucony perfect-for-yard-work sneakers, yanked on the cord, and sneered a sneer of satisfaction when the mower roared to life. Game over. Now move along. I have some mowing to do.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Holding the Crystal Ball

I am 19 days into the Write Fifteen Minutes A Day challenge. Have I written everyday? YES!! I think I wrote in an earlier blog that I heard it takes 21 days to develop a habit. That seems pretty accurate to me. "Writing" is now a daily entry at the top of my "to do" list, and I find myself thinking about when I can grab 15 minutes (or more) and pondering what I'm going to write about. I'm proud of me.

This week I get to cradle a crystal ball and peer into one of my futures. I use the phrase "one of my futures" because I have many plans and dreams yet unfulfilled, and well, who knows what's going to happen, right? I'm playing the part of Reading Specialist at a local elementary school. My graduate program includes certification as Reading Specialist, which is something I've wanted for awhile now. I have six days to wear the job and to think about if it will fit down the road. Six days to make connections that might serve me well in one of my futures.

I work with K-5 students, quite a change from middle schoolers. Different strategies, different approaches. My favorite time of the day is from 2:40-3:00 p.m. For 20 minutes I work one-on-one with a kindergartner. It's just me and him. We have fantastic conversations about his life outside of school and his day. We talk about letters of the alphabet and the sounds they make. We explore words, cheer together, and draw stars with yellow and orange highlighters to celebrate a job well done. When our time together comes to an end, we stroll back to the main school building (I'm in a mobile). Along the way, we scour our path for signs, posters, license plates - anything that contains the letters we learned in our 20 minutes together. The little guy beams with pride and excitement. Love it. Love it. Love it.

After Monday, I'll have to return the crystal ball to its resting place. But for now, I'm savoring the experience of what could be, might be, one of my futures.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Of Princesses, Grapes, and Potty Training

This summer I've been focusing on reading young adult literature. I've been trying to read more of it 1)because there are fantastic ya lit books out there and 2) I teach middle school and like to recommend books to my students. I compile my reading lists from local librarians, friends, and the blogosphere. There are so many excellent blogs available that focus on this genre. The other day I came across Princess Bookie. Not only is the content great, but the image of the cupcakes is enough of a reason to visit. Check it out!

ALERT: The following is a story about my peeps. If you enjoy hilarious stories about other peoples' toddlers, potty training, and poop, please read on. If not, check out some of my earlier blogs or visit Princess Bookie.

The peeps are potty training. Well, sort of. When their mom and dad feel like putting some effort into it, they are potty training. Here's my philosophy: Almost every mom I have talked to said they pushed and pushed their kid to train until they gave up in frustration. It was only after they gave up that their child decided they wanted to pee-pee on the potty. I have never met an adult who was not potty trained. Some of those people have been complete idiots. My peeps are brilliant, so I'm pretty confident that they will get it figured out with only a little prompting from me. If they aren't potty trained by the time they hit kindergarten, then I'll worry.

About 50% of the time, Audrey will tell me she needs to sit on the big girl potty. I finally figured out that she tells me when she wants to try for the "special prize" - ice cream. (We've changed the "special prize" to stickers in the past few days). The other afternoon, I was running around the house like a crazed woman, trying to grill chicken thighs, boil carrots, and tend to Ruthie's digestive issues. In the middle of this, Audrey announces she needs to sit on the big girl potty. I tried to dissuade her, but my "mom voice" whispered that I had to embrace every potty training opportunity. So, I dragged the potty chair into the kitchen, got Audrey situated, and went about fixing dinner. I ducked outside for 15 seconds to turn the chicken. When I stepped back in, the girls were hovered over the potty chair, pointing to something inside.

The peeps (gesticulating wildly): What ith that, Mommy? What ith that?

I am only 2.5 years into mommyhood, but I know enough that when the peeps are pointing at something, gesturing, and dancing, then I should be concerned. I cautiously crossed the kitchen and peered down into the chamber. A lone poop nugget stared back at me.

Me: What do you think it is?
Ruthie (throwing her hands up in the air and grinning): It's a grape! Mommy, Audrey made a grape!
Me: Uh, not exactly. Let me ask you this: Where did it come from?
Audrey (pointing to herself): Audrey's hiney.
Me: OK. What usually comes out of Audrey's hiney?
Audrey: A grape!
Me: No, honey. It's not a grape. It's poop! You pooped in the potty!

At this point, Audrey becomes distraught and starts wailing. Apparently, she didn't realize she was supposed to poop in the potty. After several minutes, she calms down. About that time, Mark arrives home from work.

Audrey: Daddy! I made a grape!

And the ride on the poop coaster continues.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

No Giving Up, No Giving In

Today is Day 12 of the WFMAD Challenge, and I haven't missed a single writing session. I am so proud of myself for sticking to it. I've had quite a bit of fun with the daily prompts that Laurie provides. I've used them to develop a character and a story that I wasn't sure had strong legs. I've put my character in a situation with someone who brings out the worst in her, I've explored her fears, and I've put her in a situation in which she makes horrible choices with devastating consequences (that one was fun to write!). If the only thing I get out of this experience is that I create a new habit of writing everyday, then I'm ok with that. It just feels good to do it. It feels great to be back in the groove again. I feel alive for the first time in a long while.

I'm a tad bummed because I really wanted to try today's writing prompt, but the opportunity just didn't present itself. Our task was to eavesdrop on a conversation and write down what the participants said, with the goal of getting us to think about dialogue and it's role in a story. I spent the first half of my morning alone, painting the master bath trim. The second half of the day I spent prepping for my upcoming sub job. I worked with two teachers who provided much fodder for eavesdropping and dialogue. They work so well together that they don't even need to speak in complete sentences to communicate. Real life dialogue. But, I couldn't exactly whip out my writer's notebook and start taking notes. So, I'll have to save that experience for another day.

Yesterday, the girls started a new "school" (read: daycare), so I had the whole day to myself. The first in many months. A much needed break. I felt like a bachelorette again. I splurged on my first Starbuck's Mocha Frappuchino at Wal-mart and took my time strolling the aisles looking at everything and nothing. I bought an orange clipboard for $2. Not sure why, but it beckoned to me across the aisle, and I just had to have it. Lunch was an instant peanut noodle meal from A Taste of Asia (or something). Fill the carton with water, add powdered concoctions and noodles, nuke it, and wa-la: magic food. Reminded me so much of my days as a single gal.

I'm curious to see if I will be able to hold up my end of the WFMAD bargain with both classroom teaching and grad classes starting. I honestly don't know what will happen. I know I haven't been this excited about anything for awhile. Hopefully that excitement will be enough to keep me motivated.

Friday, August 7, 2009

WFMAD Days 6 & 7 - Putting Pink Pen to Paper

Just finished Day 7 of the WFMAD challenge. I hope I can keep this going when my subbing starts next week and my grad class kicks in the week after that. I find that I'm really enjoying this challenge. Laurie has put forth some tough prompts that have forced me/coaxed me into reaching a little farther with my writing.

For the past two days, I've decided to go old school with my writing. Maybe it has something to do with my 20-year high school reunion being this weekend (not going). In other words, pen and paper. I won Jennifer Brown's Love List Tuesday contest (have you entered yet?) during Week Four. One of the grab bag prizes was a package of Uniball Fusion pens. Pink. Purple. Blue. I used purple yesterday; pink today. These might be my new favorite pens. I absolutely adore writing with pen on paper. It just feels so authentic, so Dickensian to me. I've wanted to use that adjective for a long, long time. The colors just add a little extra flair.

Yesterday, I worked on a physical description for one of my characters in a WIP. That was challenging because I hadn't really thought too much about the characters yet. I've been developing scenes with the intention of fleshing out the characters later. It was an interesting trip, to say the least. I learned a lot about my protagonist that I didn't know.

Today I wrote a scene from the same WIP, but from the perspective of a rat. Yes, I said a rat. This was huge for me because I have a hard time writing from someone else's point of view, let alone an animal's. I wrote for 15 minutes straight. When I finished, I realized I was excited about what I had achieved if only because I tried something new.

I wonder what tomorrow will bring?

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Day 5 - Journal Writing

The writing challenge prompt today was to “riff” on two obscure words:
Dwale – heresy, madness
Shive – to cut (bread) into slices

Neither word really does anything for me. They make me think of medieval times. Chaucer. Old English. Loved that stuff in high school and college. But they don’t get my creative juices flowing. And since I technically don’t have a work in progress, I can’t incorporate them into my current project.

So, I’m going to step away from the prompt and do my own thing again today. My goal at this time and in this place isn’t to create a finished product. My only goal is to get back into the habit of writing. If that writing evolves into something bigger, so be it. The more words and thoughts I put out there, the more I ideas I have to pull from when I do decide to write the Great American novel … or short story … or poem … or paragraph … sentence.

Today’s topic: Journal Writing. I’ve kept a journal for as long as I can remember. Journal writing isn’t something I do every day. When I was an angst-filled teenager, I wrote only when I was hormonal, angry, or sad. Ok, pretty much every day back then. As I grew older and began stuffing my life with experiences, I wrote only when I felt the need. Happy experiences. Life changing experiences. Sad experiences. Bad experiences. People I met, places I visited, events I didn’t want to forget. I pulled out my current journal the other day and realized how long it had been since I’d talked to this old friend. We hadn’t had a good chat since November of last year. That might be the longest I’ve gone without writing. I’m not sure why I let life get in the way of that friendship, but I’ve reconciled our differences and will be more aware of tending to that much needed relationship. I prefer a journal writing book over an electronic version. I treasure the experience of selecting a new journal when I finish one. Running my hands over the different types of binding, flipping through pages, noting if they are white, yellowish, or a color of the rainbow. Foregoing blank pages for ones with lines. Always lines. And after I record an entry, I always look back to see what I was doing around this time the previous year.

I’ve also started two other journals: one for each of my daughters. I don’t have many memories of my mother, who passed away when I was five years old. My father doesn’t seem to remember too many stories or any of my developmental milestones. I cherish one item of my mother’s above the others. One of her friends passed it along to me a few years ago. At some point in their friendship, my mother sent this friend a birthday card. It was a cheesy 1970s card, with a cheery cat on it or something. I don’t quite recall. Before sending the card, my mother unfolded it (quarter pages) and wrote her friend a letter. My mother’s handwriting. Her thoughts, feelings, and events for one day in time. I feel close to my mom just thinking about it. I decided some time last year to start journals for my girls so they would know my handwriting. So they would have their mother’s view of their achievements and their struggles. So they would know how very proud I am of them and how very much I love them. My hope is I will live a very long time and have as many journals filled for them as I do for myself. But if that isn’t the plan, at least they have something tangible from me to them. A little heart gift that I hope they will cherish as much as I cherish mine.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Day 4 - No Good

Today’s writing challenge prompt encourages me to write about my writing space. To show, not tell. To use detail. I’m not in a detailed frame of mind today. My mind feels foggy, cloudy, dense, black. I envision a rectangular-shaped concrete block occupies the space where my brain is supposed to be. Today it’s just going to be about logging my 15 minutes of writing. That’s it. That’s all you’ll get. Just my fingers clicking away. Stream-of-consciousness. Crappy crap crap crap. Eleven more minutes. I can hear “Little Guy,” our ancient mantle clock ticking away the time. But his countdown doesn’t matter today because he is 20 minutes behind the times. Tick tock. Tick tock. His breathing is labored, like that of an old man who has spent his life smoking. Little Guy tries his hardest to keep up with “Sligh,” our majestic Grandfather clock, whose pendulum gracefully swings a steady beat. But it's nowhere near a true competition. Any minute now, the cuckoo clock will chime in. The chimney sweep will pop up from the chimney 12 times to record the hour. The wooden German will lift his beer stein 12 times in celebration. But wait. Someone forgot to pull the weights, lower the lever. The cuckoo clock sits silent. Corn cob weights in a clump on the hardwood floor. Six more minutes. Six more minutes. Six more minutes. A perfect writing space. Right now, I can’t imagine ever having one. A place where I can hide out, think, dream. I think I would like the attic room of an old Cape Cod on the coast. Eastern seaboard. Mid-Atlantic. I could peer out the windows, through glass wrinkled with time, and see the ocean. The waves. The rocks. The foam. Take a deep breath and snort the sea air like a dog with its head hanging out the car window. Or perhaps I could lock myself away at the tippy top of a stone tower. Rapunzel. Jo from “Little Women.” A place where it would take people so long to get to me that they wouldn't even bother to try. Ding Ding Ding. Session is over.

Monday, August 3, 2009

WFMAD - Day Three (aka Hot Dogs and Chambourcin)

Evalina scrutinized her appearance in the floor-length mirror. She ran her hands down her thighs to smooth out the wrinkles in her linen shorts, took a quarter turn, and crooked her neck.

“Not bad.”

Turning back, she pinched each side of her sleeveless V-neck sweater between her thumbs and index fingers and adjusted it upward ever so slightly. Sliding her feet into black flats, she sighed.

“This is as good as it’s going to get,” she whispered. Picking up her keys, she headed out the door, trying to ignore her gurgling stomach that signaled nervousness and excitement.

As she drove through the streets, she couldn’t shake the sense of déjà vu. She had been here before. Many times in fact. So many, that she didn’t have high hopes for this evening. Devon was handsome, kind, successful, independent, funny, and intelligent. It was easy to be with him. The early dates had gone well, and the couple had much in common. The enjoyed indie movies, walks at the lake, beer, wine, baseball games, and 80s video games.

But the last time they were together, everything changed.

“Let me cook you dinner next weekend,” Devon offered as they sat together in his car, knowing that it was late, but neither quite ready to say good night. “What’s your favorite meal?”

Panic threatened to choke her response. An offer for a homemade dinner was universal dating code for “I want to take this to the next level.” Was she ready for that? She liked Devon well enough, but …

“I don’t really have one,” Evalina blurted out. She cringed inside. She knew how odd that sounded, but it was the truth. And after her last relationship, she vowed to be herself, always. No more trying to change to please someone. Stick to your guns, she told herself.

“Everybody has a favorite meal,” Devon laughed in disbelief.

“Well, I’m not everyone and I really don’t have a favorite meal.” Evalina felt her defenses coming to her rescue, building a wall as quickly as they could. “I like most foods. Except mushrooms. Definitely not mushrooms. They smell like dirty feet.”

Devon laughed again and shook his head. “Ok. No mushrooms. Ever. And I still want to fix you dinner next weekend, even if you won’t give me any more to go on than that you don’t like mushrooms.”

“You’re a smart guy. You’ll figure something out.” Evalina smiled.

And now, here she was. About to enter Devon’s house for what could be a make it or break it meal.

She slowly stretched her right index finger out to ring the bell, but before she could make contact with the button, the door swung open.

“Hey! Right on time!” Devon beamed. “You look great! Come on in. Make yourself comfortable, and I’ll get you a glass of wine.”

Wine, Evalina thought to herself. Red=steak. White=pasta with alfredo sauce or chicken.
As she sat down on the leather sofa, Devon came out of the kitchen with a glass of red wine. Steak, she thought. Let me guess, asparagus and French dinner rolls. Why was she acting like this? Nerves. Fear. Keep it up, she told herself, and this most surely would be the last date she and Devon shared. Give the guy a chance.

“Hermanhoff 2001 Chambourcin. Have you had it before?”

“No, but I love Hermanhoff wine. Have you been to Herman for Octoberfest? It’s a fun time.”

“That’s one place I haven’t been yet, Hermann, Missouri. I’ve only heard great things about it. Maybe we could take a day trip this fall.”

“Maybe,” Evalina smiled and sniffed the wine in her glass. She could tell by that one whiff that she was going to enjoy this glass.

“I’ll be right back. Dinner’s just about ready.” Devon disappeared into the kitchen, and Evalina heard the outside door open and close.

She took a small sip of the Chambourcin, letting it rest for just a few seconds before swilling and swallowing. Not too dry; not too sweet, Perfect. Still, she found herself thinking how rude it was that Devon hadn’t asked her how she liked her steak. That means it’s either going to be mooing on the plate or as tough as leather.

She heard the door open and close again, and the clink of a plate on the kitchen counter. Oddly, she realized that the smell wafting from the kitchen wasn’t steak. But what was it? The odor seemed familiar, but she couldn’t quite place it.

“Dinner is served,” Devon grinned, peeking around the corner. “Come on in.”

Cautiously, Evalina rose from the sofa and prepared herself. Poker face, she told herself, whatever is in that kitchen, keep a poker face.

Turning the corner, she stopped.

Hot dogs, sauerkraut, horseradish, and Kraft Macaroni & Cheese.

Evalina looked at Devon, then back at the table.

What had she gotten herself into?

Sunday, August 2, 2009

WFMAD - Day Two

I've been looking forward to this time all day. The peeps are napping and Mark is washing his Ranger. No interruptions!

Random thoughts first. Mark and I watched a VH1 Countdown of the Top 100 Songs of the 80s last night. Of course, several Aerosmith songs made the cut. Joe Perry popped in his two cents about "Janie's Got a Gun, and then the VO gal mentioned that Joe Perry hawks his own brand of hot sauce. Or did at the time of the taping. Really? You are a member of one of the greatest bands of all time, and you sell hot sauce? Interesting. I would love to know the story behind that. I also discovered that in Pat Benatar's video "Love is a Battlefield," the main character (played by Pat) becomes a prostitute when she runs away from home. I always thought she ran away from home so she could be free to express herself in kooky clothes. Huh. Never put two and two together until last night. Naive, Table for One.

Today's challenge. Today's prompt is to find a photo that evokes an emotional response. A gut feeling. I chose a 3 x 5 black-and-white image of my mother in the 1950s. She's standing alone in front of elaborate, well-kept fir-tree landscaping that camouflages a brick building. A simple, white, capped-sleeved shift frames her slender body. Hands clasped behind her back, she smiles slightly at the camera. I know this smile because it's mine. It's a tight-lipped, hybrid smile, part grin/part smirk that shouts, "I am only barely tolerating this situation." Where was she and why? What was she thinking? What were her plans for the rest of that day? Who took the picture. Questions, always questions. This is what I'm thinking as I gingerly hold the picture up to the window light and peer into that forgotten world.

I chose this photo because it's probably my favorite image of my mother. A young woman, early 20s, with her whole life ahead of her. It feels strange to look at the photo and know what her life held after taking this snapshot was taken, when she had no idea. Yet, the photo conjures so many other feelings in me: sadness, anger, confusion, curiosity, pride, love, loneliness, happiness.

I lost my mother when I was five. The cancer worked swiftly. Diagnosed in July; gone October 31. I've wandered around with a black hole inside of me for 33 years. Fifty percent of my life gone, just like that. No goodbyes. No do-overs. No apologies. For a long while, many years, I couldn't name the reason for the overwhelming, unshakable emptiness that shaded even my most happiest of days. It took the wisdom that comes with age and experience to identify the source. When I became a mother a little more than two years ago, the craving to know her became stronger. I don't think I've ever missed my mother as much as I miss her now. I would give almost anything if I could see her, smell her, feel her, hug her and be hugged by her. Heck, I just want to have one valid memory of her. A memory that is mine alone, not something borrowed or created by other people's memories of her.

These things I know are true: She loved to read and travel. She had a sharp-tongue and a soft heart. She made people laugh. She was strict and impatient. She was adventurous. She was beautiful and intelligent. I am her in all those respects, and I cherish those traits.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

WFMAD - Day One

YA author Laurie Halse Anderson posted a writing challenge for the month of August. The Write Fifteen Minutes A Day Challenge. I noticed it on her FB post earlier this morning. Fate, I think. I can do this. Starting right now.

First some random thoughts. 1) I found out this morning that I love Tentation apples. I had never heard of them until I saw them in the grocery store earlier this week. They are truly beautiful apples. Golden in color with a blush of red. The glow attracted me, as did the way they were neatly arranged in stadium rows. I love aesthetic organization. I tried one this morning and am hooked. The problem is, I think they come from New Zealand. And since I've never seen them before, will I ever be able to find them again? A road trip to New Zealand might be in order. I knew from the first bite that this was my apple. Not too sweet; not too tart. Luscious fruit perfection. 2). One on my peeps knows how to pronounce the word "chinchilla" and can identify the animal in a book. But I must give the credit to Diego. Who said TV wasn't educational?

On to the prompt. One of the reasons I don't write often is because I have terrible, horrible, no good, overwhelming writer's block. When I'm not sitting at the computer or holding a pen in my hand, all sorts of topics flood my senses. But when I try to capture those thoughts on paper or screen, the words get stuck at the tippy tips of my fingers and refuse to flow. So, I'm glad that Laurie is providing prompts. Today's prompt has to do with dreams, and I had a strange one last night.

In the dream, my husband and I were walking down Second Creek Road with our dog, Molly. Molly, the perfect pet, our first child, died almost a year ago. I sensed that the peeps existed, but they were not with us on this walk. Second Creek Road is a country road that winds past our subdivision. Paved for subdivision dwellers, gravel the instant the houses end. I realized rather suddenly that we had forgotten something at the house. I don't know what. I decided to run back to our house to get it. As I walked back up the road, I passed two scruffy men. Older, gray hair. Flannel shirts and dirt-stained jeans. They were standing by the side of the road talking, but I couldn't hear what they were saying. When I passed by them, they both stopped and looked at me. For a split second, I was afraid and thought that I shouldn't leave Mark alone. But I noticed what I assumed was their car parked not too far away. An older model, what might be considered "a tank." Rusty in spots. Dusty from the local roads. I kept going.

I reached the house, got whatever it was that I needed, and turned to go. Mark and Molly were lumbering up the sidewalk. In his arms, Mark carried a dog. Long black with white accents. A little timid. A tad scruffy. Mark said the two men abandoned the dog and that he felt sorry for it so he brought it home. Molly was friendly toward the dog, but apprehensive. She never did like change, especially anything that would upset her position as top dog in the house. I think I was ok with keeping the dog.

But at some point, the dog morphed into a little girl. She looked almost exactly like my Ruthie. Round face. Sparkling gray eyes. Strawberry-blonde hair with wild curls. Cheery smile. She was wearing a sundress with flowers. The dress seemed dingy and contrasted greatly with the child's shining personality. She seemed to be the same age as my girls, 2 1/2, but she couldn't speak well. She knew a few words, but even those were unintelligible. I remember debating on whether we should keep her. "I think we should call Social Services." And I woke up.