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On life … and how titles can be vague.

Published November 25, 2013 by mandileighbean

Life is a fleeting, funny thing- I think we can all agree on that.  Last night, I enjoyed some drinks and some nostalgia with wonderful friends.  As the night ended at a diner, the way nights in Jersey so often do, a waitress who had seated herself at the table beside ours went into some kind of diabetic shock.  My friend Raina is a nurse, and without hesitation, she rushed to the woman’s side and did all she could to keep her alert and comfortable until the paramedics arrived.  I watched her with a serious sense of awe, of how cool, calm, collected, and confident she was.  I was amazed that such a wonderful and beautiful human being could friends with someone like me, who did contributed nothing to the situation other than stunned silence and stares.

WEEKLY WRITING PROMPT #7: “A woman gets the opportunity of a lifetime when she gets hired to sing backup for a famous musician.”

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Emily was ten years too old – was there really a logical reason for someone to roam this Earth for ninety years?  What could there possibly be left to see or hear or do?  She had laughed until she cried, cried until she had to laugh, been heartbroken, believed herself to be infinite and immortal, believed everything to be meaningless, and then believed everything to be poignantly meaningful.  She had run the gamut from wildly and recklessly passionate to dangerously and stubbornly apathetic.  Had she not lived through some serious shit?  Had she not also merrily sailed through years of calm?  What could possibly be left?  Emily was ready for death.

Ah, but that was horse shit and she knew it.  The thought of going to sleep and never waking up still terrified her in a way that was inexplicable.  It was a sweeping, overwhelming kind of horror that could not be sufficiently articulated.  So, Emily reasoned, if it could not be explained, then what good was there in thinking about it?  Emily looked for something else to occupy her mind and she settled on the weather.  The snow outside was falling steadily and despite feeling hellishly cranky, Emily thought it beautiful to look at.  She watched the weather silently and calmly with her head turned to the side on the large but thin pillow.  She allowed herself to wonder, but only for a moment, how many more snowfalls she’d see, but she shut her eyes against the thought of her inevitable and impending passing.  She prayed for some kind of relief, for some kind of distraction, and in walked the nurse.

The nurse had spent many nights with Emily, perhaps pulling the short straw and getting stuck with the cranky old woman through horrendous hours, hours where the human body was meant to be soundly sleeping.  The nurse was always obnoxiously cheerful and pleasant, which annoyed Emily who only pretended to be crotchety enough to pray for death.  Emily was also annoyed because the nurse was a young man.  Men, in Emily’s learned and wise and venerable opinion, were meant for manual labor and hard work, not for soothing and caring and all that womanly business.  Emily never exchanged more than a few words with the young man, and she only relented and did so because of his eyes.

The young man had absolutely phenomenal eyes.  There were a unique shade of emerald that a human being is blessed to see only once in a lifetime.  They shone brightly, as if chips of a broken Heineken bottle were stuck in the orbs to catch and reflect light.  Emily knew it was a piss poor analogy, and a disturbing rather than beautiful image, but she was dying.  She could do as she pleased.  She gave him a sneer that was slightly less repellent than usual as he came in, and then turned to continue to watch the accumulating powder.  He smiled merrily at her.  “Good evening, Emily.  How are you feeling?”

She grunted.

“Emily, my favorite part of our time together is the scintillating conversations we share.  Honestly, I’ve never been so emotionally and intellectually engrossed before.”  He was being scathingly sarcastic, but he gave her a quick wink to show it was all in fun.  Emily did her best to hide her grin in her hands as she pretended to cough.  The young man had traversed over to the machines that beeped endlessly and flashed all kinds of numbers and statistics that meant nothing to Emily.  She watched him and had the urge to ask him a question.  Despite it being completely out of character, Emily asked, “Did you always want to be a nurse, son?”

The young man was taken aback, clearly not anticipating any kind of conversation other than the usual nods and unintelligible moans and groans.  “What?” he responded, his decorum completely leaving him in favor of shock.

“Men usually aren’t nurses.  What brought you to this line of work?”

He laughed softly.  “You know, you’re right, but no one’s ever actually asked me that before.”  With the grin lingering about his lips, he took a few moments to give the question some serious thought.  Then he said, “I’ve always wanted to be a writer.”

Emily was disappointed.  Writing was not work by any stretch of the imagination.  She had wanted him to say rancher, or laborer, or soldier, something exceedingly masculine and handsome and wonderful she could think about later.  In essence, he had given her nothing to work with, and so she became bored with the conversation and turned her face away, back to the snow.

“What about you, Emily?  What was your dream?”

There was no thinking; her response was instinctual, as effortless as breathing.  “I wanted to be a singer.”

“Really?” the young man was amused by the answer.  “I’ve got to be honest; you don’t strike me as a singer, Emily.”

She turned to him with cold eyes.  “And why not?  What the hell is that supposed to mean, anyway?  I could sing as good as any of them!  I could move and put on one hell of a show, I’ll have you know!”

The young man crossed his arms over his chest and gazed upon Emily with real interest.  “So what happened?  Why are you here instead of up on the stage?”

“Because I’m ninety years old and knocking on death’s door.”

He smiled ruefully.  “You know what I mean, Emily.  Why didn’t you ever become a singer?”

She sighed.  “Well, I was making a name for myself at the local dive bars.  I was packing places to capacity, causing fire hazards and whatnot.  A couple of stories ran in the papers and this big shot from Los Angeles came to see me.  He was impressed by what he saw and offered me a shot.  I was to go to Los Angeles and become a backup singer for Frank Sinatra for a gig or two.”

“Frank Sinatra, really?” the young man asked.  She had his full attention now as he sat on the edge of her bed, open-mouthed.

“Oh, sure,” she smiled.  “I didn’t get to meet him or nothin’, because during my audition, I was nervous as hell.  So I downed some whiskey to calm the nerves and pull it together.  I must have overdone it, though, because I moseyed on up there and soon as I opened my pie hole, I vomited all over the mic.”  Emily started chuckling.  “Everyone was so disgusted.  I was escorted out by these burley guys who didn’t even want to touch me.  I didn’t even get a chance to collect my things.”  Her chuckles had turned into hearty guffaws.  She brought her wrinkled hands up to her wrinkled cheeks as her eyes wrinkled with merriment.  She was genuinely laughing, something she hadn’t done since Lord knows how long.  It was an infectious, melodious and beautiful sound and for a fleeting moment, the young man heard how Emily must have sounded when she sang and it was tremendous.  His smile stretched wider and he joined in the laughter.

Elderly woman's hand

On personally defining success and nostalgia.

Published November 17, 2013 by mandileighbean

This week was exciting as far as my blossoming writing career goes.  I had an author event on Thursday, November 14th at Ocean County College in Toms River, New Jersey.  The event was sponsored and essentially put together by the Literature Club, specifically because of Sara Pease, who is a former student of mine and a simply wonderful human being.  There were about twenty people in attendance, most of whom were attentive and asked the best questions I have had the privilege of answering.  I was able to sell seven books and talk to some truly interesting and supportive young adults.  It was a wonderful experience and it made returning to work on Friday SO HARD.

Last night, which was Saturday, November 16th, I was able to occupy a vendor table at Ladies’ Night Out at the Manchester Firehouse in Manchester, New Jersey.  I sold five books and was able to engage in highly entertaining conversations with fellow vendors.  I shared my table with D.O.V.E., which is an organization that helps to empower female victims of violence.  It was a serendipitous pairing, considering the content of Her Beautiful Monster.  It was a great evening, and I was truly humbled by my friends Heather, Ali, Kasey, Melanie, Marie and Jenna who showed up and have done so at every available opportunity.  Though I only sold a total of twelve books and minimally increased my audience, everyone has to start somewhere and these experiences helped to confirm for me that I need to be a writer.  It is a goal I need to work harder towards, because it helps to me to feel fulfilled, complete, and just plain happy.  In the following months, my goal is to be interviewed by a newspaper that serves a large population (like the Asbury Park Press) and send queries to agents, who would also help in marketing.  Speaking of marketing, my friend Kalie invited me to attend an event with her on Wednesday that provides ideas for marketing in viral markets and on social media sites (I believe).  She brought up the important point that networking is key.

Wish me luck, and enjoy this week’s writing prompt.  🙂

WEEKLY WRITING PROMPT #6: “I rubbed my thumb across her cheek and, buddy, I thought I was going to cry.”

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I am a sad, silly and lonely girl.  I imagine a woman would be wiser and stronger, and refrain from indulging in simple fantasies she plans on forcing to be recurrent.  The latest is this: graduation night will be a beautiful night near the latter part of June.  The moon will be full and bright and hanging high in the sky.  Its beauty will be lost on me, unfortunately, because I’ll be inside the high school, dutifully stationed at my classroom door.  I’ll be stuck handing out official, important-looking, white, large envelopes to the robed miscreants, academics, athletes, everyone in between.  The envelopes will contain various certificates and documents that become so much useless paper in lieu of graduation itself, and of all the accompanying promises and freedom and optimism intangibly included therein.  As such, students will not be rushing to obtain the envelopes and will have to be reminded and redirected several times by the faculty members in attendance.  Blue and gold robes will whip and ripple around sneakers and outrageous heels, slapping and clicking respectively through the hallways as sloppy hugs, final goodbyes, and well-wishes are doled out.  As it grows late, the number of students whirling about in flurries of excitement lessens considerably and the building borders on being empty and desolate and lonely.

 

I will sigh and fall back against the classroom door, keeping the door open while lazily allowing the door made of composite wood to support my weight rather than my understandably aching feet.  I pray I will have lost the weight and that my skin will be clear, or at the very least, clearer than it is now.  I’ll be observing the few remaining students and faculty members milling about, a mere observer whose mind is one million miles away, on to the next silly fantasy as the last thousand never ever came to fruition.  Someone will approach from behind, out of my view, to unintentionally capitalize upon the element of surprise.  He will gently clear his throat and simultaneously become unexpectedly and wildly unsure of himself.  To release the building nervous energy, he will shove his hands deep into the front pockets of his worn jeans, covered in orange-colored dust from fascinating roads less traveled in America, so that his calloused fingertips (worked to the bone, strumming guitars and banjos, gripping the wheel too tightly) bend against the fabric of the lining.  He’ll gently clear his throat, embellishing the strong and solid muscles of his masculine neck and jaw, and say, “Hey Andrea.”

 

Startled from my reverie, my closest and most constant companion, I’ll turn quickly but it’ll feel like slow motion, like trying to move fast in a dream, once my eyes take in his image and my brain comprehends who is standing there.  I am certain I will feel fifteen.  Breathless and deliciously confused, I’ll smile and lamely offer, “Hey.”  In a moment or so, I’ll (hopefully) come back to myself and break out with a radiant (well, as radiant as a smile can be when it’s caged by braces) smile and ask how he’s been.  I’ll already have some idea courtesy of creeping on Facebook and the gossip of mutual acquaintances.  I’ll know he’s been living a bohemian life I’ve always dreamed of, that he’s braver and more wonderful than my adolescent self had ever even dreamed of, even though he had been my schoolgirl obsession for years.  He won’t go into all of that, though.  He’ll keep it politely simple and appropriately simple and only say that he’s been good and doing well.  He’ll ask me how I’ve been and I’ll answer in an extremely similar fashion, lifting my upturned palms as a sort of half-hearted shrug and to indicate how absolutely bizarre it can be to work in the same high school we graduated from.  He’ll smile and let his gaze fall to the floor beneath us, seemingly perfectly content to stew in the impending awkward silence.

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I, on the other hand, have never been so suave or comfortable in my own skin, nor will I ever be.  I’ll need to smash it, to break it, so I’ll do what I never wanted to and bring up the past in all its embarrassing nostalgia.  How could I not, given the present company, our history, and current setting?  I believe he’ll only laugh and shrug it off.  His cheeks will color slightly, resulting from excessive, juvenile flattery and perhaps guilt stemming from the playground torture and adolescent cruelty he inflicted upon me.  Indeed, his grin will ultimately fade and his eyes will rise to meet mine.  His face, so uniquely handsome and so simultaneously beautiful in its stoic sorrow from many troubles and burdens I only ever guessed at among whispering girlfriends, will be set.  He’ll ask, “Do you remember what I wrote in your yearbook?”

 

Shock and nausea will be my immediate response.  My mouth will go dry and I’ll choke and sputter when I ask, “Do you?”

 

He’ll smile, but it will be so muted that I will doubt its authenticity.  “Of course I do!  I didn’t write it lightly.”  There will be a gut-wrenching pause to allow the tears to gather and prick at my eyes.  “I’m sorry,” he’ll say.  “And I didn’t ignore the e-mail you sent me, either.  I’ve just been busy and then I thought –“

 

“Stop,” I’ll command and demand.  “You don’t have to, you really don’t have to.  It’s whatever; I mean, it is what it is, and I don’t know why I sent that message.  Did it completely creep you out?  I’m sorry.”

 

Kindly, he will smile and say, “No, it didn’t creep me out, not at all.”  Another awkward silence will descend and though I will positively squirm, screaming inner, secret prayers for it to end or for me to just die, he will be graceful and effortless in his charm when he says, “You look good.”

 

My face will flush and I will find a spot on the floor incredibly interesting suddenly, and concentrate my gaze there.  It will be in an attempt at being coy and feminine and flirty, but I will be too chicken shit to meet his gaze, so I will be unable to determine its effectiveness.  The lack of eye contact will by no means be a lack of attention.  He will undoubtedly captivate me and rob me of my breath, the way he always did and, most likely, always will.  Grinning, I’ll thank him for the compliment and eagerly return it in a fashion more embarrassing than charming or even sincere.  He’ll nod his head in a charming, gentleman’s way.  “Thank you,” he will say with a slight Southern drawl he never had before that I will suspect him of faking for the moment.  After all, I won’t feel so guilty or so lame if him and I are nothing more than a couple of liars.

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The inability to know what to say next will become unbearable for the both of us.  He’ll hurriedly mumble that it was good seeing me, that it was good to catch up, and he’ll hope to see me around, and then he’ll be gone.  Nothing ever really changes, not even within my precious illusions and foolish fantasies.  But, I’ll shut my eyes tight and envision him somewhere down the line, embellishing the encounter more so than I’ve done in creating it.  He’ll tell of an imagined conversation which lasts and lasts until we’re actually asked to leave by the custodial staff.  He’ll say I suggested moving the conversation to a local, popular restaurant where we stay until we are again asked to leave.  We’ll say our goodbyes beneath unforgiving fluorescent lights in an empty parking lot.  I smile when I think of how he’ll lie and tell his attentive listener that he reached out to touch my face and I yielded completely to the touch, a victim of parting and sweet sorrow and all that ancient, literary jazz.  He’ll say, “I rubbed my thumb across her cheek and, buddy, I thought I was going to cry.”

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On being bold and priorities.

Published November 10, 2013 by mandileighbean

I freely admit that as of late, I have been something of a “Stranger Danger” when it comes to this blog, and to my writing career at large.  Teaching seems to be taking up every spare moment of my time, leaving me exhausted and uninspired.  I have always desired for teaching to be my career, but I never intended for it to become my life, to consume me.  I must then be bold, and align my priorities to my dreams.  No writer ever became successful by whining and making excuses.

That being said, I have an author event scheduled for Thursday, November 14th at Ocean County College in Toms River, New Jersey at 12:30PM.  The event is only open to students, faculty and staff, so if you are on campus that day, stop on by!  I will also have a table set up at the Ladies’ Night at Manchester Firehouse on Saturday, November 16th.

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WEEKLY WRITING PROMPT #5: “A man traveling overseas meets the woman of his dreams, but they don’t speak a common language.”

     Michael had never been outside of the continental United States of America.  He had never even ventured to Alaska or Hawaii, let alone a country that was an ocean away.  He reasoned that most of it was because he was absolutely terrified of flying, and part of it was because of his never promising financial situation; he always seemed to be struggling, to register just a step behind.  Even in college, when he had wanted to study abroad in England, when he had access to financial aid, scholarships, and student loans, he had not been able to swing it.  As a matter of fact, the only reason Michael was seated by the window of a 757 airplane was because his father had died.  At the ripe old age of 57, John Sullivan had dropped dead of a heart attack.  Just about a month ago, just a few short months before he was due to retire; Mr. Sullivan had been in the break room of the warehouse at the seaport in Elizabeth, New Jersey.  He had been pouring himself a crappy cup of coffee into a Styrofoam cup when everything just suddenly seized up and stopped.  He couldn’t breathe or think, and so he simply collapsed and died.  There had been no goodbye for his youngest child, his only son; no words of wisdom, no teachable moment as he lay dying about life and love and what is really important.

There had been a horrendously depressing funeral where Michael had to practically carry his mother from one uncomfortable folding chair to another.  She wept and fell, popped another Xanax, called for her husband who was six feet in the ground, held her two daughters (Michael’s older sisters), popped a Xanax, stared off into space, crumbled, popped a Xanax, withered, and slept.  She had been more of a presentable widow, though she would be forever heartbroken, at the reading of the will.  John Sullivan, in death as he always had been in life, took great care of his loved ones.  Each child received $15,000 and a personal, sentimental memento (Michael had inherited his father’s varsity letter jacket).  His mother inherited everything else, aside from unremarkable amounts of money left to John’s one sister and six brothers.  Michael sat alone in his childhood bedroom sometime later, turning the check over in his shaking hands again and again.  His mother advised him to invest it.  His oldest sister encouraged him to save it, to simply put it away.  His other sister hugged him tightly and told him to do whatever he wanted because that is what their Dad would have wanted.  So he had kissed her, packed his bag, and here he was, flying across the Atlantic.

Michael had decided on France; he could not explain why he had chosen France, but it felt right.  Then again, maybe it was the valium and glass of vodka he had ingested and imbibed shortly after takeoff.  When he landed, there was a substantial terrifying amount of time where Michael panicked over changing currency, renting a car, and struggling to understand and be understood.  But despite initial terror and uncertainty, events had unfolded smoothly and before long, Michael had located his hotel, unpacked his bags, and hit the town.  Night had descended upon Paris as a familiar love, and Michael had trouble articulating the myriad of exciting feelings which were enveloping his saner, more rational self.  Sitting outside a populated bar, sipping from a glass of merlot, Michael felt smarter, stronger, sexier, and more alive than he ever had before.  Possibilities were endless and seemed more like guarantees than anything else.  He could be the life of a party- any party.  He released a short, anticipatory breath and leaned back against the faux wicker chair he was sitting in.  The emerald, checkered tablecloth created a desirable ambiance, but the outside of the bar was deserted and Michael did not want to be alone or lonely or anything of the sort.  He downed the rest of his merlot and hurried back inside.

The music was loud, but lacked the thumping bass so common to American nightclubs and as a result, was classier and more elegant.  Michael liked that; he liked that the interior was dimly lit but the lights reflected warmly against the mahogany, and Michael felt comfy, cozy, and right at home.  He slid against packed bodies that were not grinding mindlessly and sweating profusely, but talking – discussing lively topics.  This was where Michael was supposed to be – he was sure of it – and he bellied up to the bar, ready to order another glass.  His finger was poised in the air and his mouth was open, ready to call “Garcon!” but an intoxicating beauty cut him in line, speaking rapidly in French with a remarkable smile.  She had long, wavy, dark hair that fell past her shoulders.  Her eyes were dark and round, and caught the light in a similar fashion to the way that the mahogany did.  Michael’s mouth stayed open as he watched her, in her scarlet cocktail dress, move like liquid, in rolling waves of self-confidence and beauty.  He knew that he needed to know her.  He leaned closer to her, tapped her on the shoulder so that she turned towards him.  He extended his hand and said, “Hey, I’m Michael.”

After only a slight hesitation, she took Michael’s hand in hers.  Her grip was somehow feminine and firm, somehow perfect.  “Bon soir,” she greeted.  She liked his darker features and she liked his smile.  He was an American, a tourist, but there were worse things a man could be, she reasoned.  All of this assessment was hopelessly lost on Michael, who assumed she was providing her name, Dawn Soar.  He beamed and jerked his head backwards, towards the dance floor.  He asked her if she would like to dance and made a childish and endearing sort of pantomime.  She laughed at his innocence and brazen nature, but nodded and allowed herself to be led onto the floor.  There was a wizened veteran of the bar scene seated before the ivory keys, crooning beautifully.  Fearsome of awkward silence, Michael began talking and did not stop.  He told her everything, how much he missed his father, how much he worried about his mother, what this trip meant, how beautiful she was and how thankful he was that he had met her.  She listened patiently, a small, sad, concentrated smile on her pretty face.  She rested her head on his broad, masculine shoulder, which Michael assumed was a good sign.  They stayed that way for an eternity, swaying until the lights came up – the international signal that it was time to head home.  She looked up at him with sleepy, romantic eyes and explained, in her best French, that she could understand English but could not speak it, but would be thrilled to see as much of him as possible during his stay.  She also told him that her name was Antoinette, and Michael blanched because he had been calling her Dawn the entire time.  She wrote her number on a napkin and disappeared into the crowded Paris streets.

Michael woke with the dawn the following morning and purchased a translation book from the lobby of his hotel.

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