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On the difference between critics and beta readers.

Published September 12, 2019 by mandileighbean

I know I announced last week that my blog would be updated every Wednesday, but in light of what yesterday was – the eighteenth anniversary of September 11th, 2001 – it seemed in really poor taste to try and peddle my poetry and blog post when minds and hearts should really be focused on the anniversary of the day that changed everything. I’m humbled and completely knocked off my axis when I think about the enormity of that day, from the tragedy to the heroics to its function as a clear and distinct demarcation between a world that was and a world that is.

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So this week, I update on Thursday.

And this week, I’ve been thinking a lot about critics. I was fortunate to see “IT Chapter 2” the night it premiered with Dad and I LOVED the film (and this marks the second time a trip to the movies to see a film based on a work by Stephen King has brought Dad and I closer). It was brutal in its violence and in its tragedy, but it was also beautiful and refreshing in the way it honored the essence of King’s original story. That novel has always held a special place in my heart. Forgive me if I’ve shared this experience before, but I can vividly remember where I was when I read the last page of the novel: I was in my parents’ old van on my way to my twin sister’s softball game at our high school. It was uncomfortably crisp outside, so Mom and my little brother and me were all waiting in the van until my twin sister got up to bat. I was stretched out along the backseat and I was sobbing. I was crying hard enough to cause my mom to turn around and try and comfort me in her unique, no-nonsense way. She said to me, “Mandi, you know those aren’t real people.”

And I laughed, but what I really wanted to do was launch into an impassioned, breathless declaration about the heartbreaking genius of it. I wanted to tell her that it was all real and true in the sense that to be brave, loving, and selfless adults, people need to stay the faithful, simple, and vulnerable children they started out as. And that life is all about connecting deeply with others and staying true to those connections no matter the peril. And I wanted to tell her I was so moved because I belonged to no such club, not even one for Losers. I felt no cosmic kinship with anyone and were I to face a demonic, child-eating clown in a damp and filthy sewer, I’d have no one to call. I realize now that last bit is not entirely true – and never was – but it felt true at fifteen.

So when I read reviews by people who had seen the film and criticized it for not being scary or for being too long, it annoyed me because I wanted to assume they just “didn’t get it,” like I could degrade them into people less intelligent and less empathetic and less open-minded than me. I felt the same way after I saw “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood.” I was almost offended that people in the theater weren’t as enthralled as I was, that they weren’t blown away by the gorgeous cinematography and the originality in creating a modern fairy tale.

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I had to stop myself. I had to remind myself that art is for everyone, first and foremost, and that everyone is entitled to their opinion. And my enjoyment of a film (or album or novel or whatever) should not be diminished or lessened by someone else’s displeasure. I was turning into the very thing I hated: a critic. Sometimes it seems to me that critics purposely dislike what is popular just to preserve an elitist status and perpetuate the notion that critics knows something the rest of us don’t. And maybe that elitism works both ways, in the sense that those that rally against critics (myself included) do so in defense of the “general” viewer (or listener or reader or whatever). Separating the “casual” imbiber of art from the learned intellectual critic serves both sides because with sides, someone can always be right and someone can always be wrong.

But that’s not the purpose of art or entertainment, is it?

Do what you like with critics, but that doesn’t mean a writer shouldn’t get opinions about her work. Writers should have a couple of trusted, honest beta readers (like critics in a milder, more individualized form) that can help them hone their craft. I have two, but am looking for a third. I am looking for a passionate reader to read my works-in-progress and share their opinion on the work.

Anyone interested? Comment here.

Until next time, friends ❤

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On weather and productivity.

Published August 29, 2019 by mandileighbean

rain-walk

I went walking in the rain today. It wasn’t my intention; I thought the fine mist that had been falling since earlier in the morning was tapering off and that it would stop altogether as I walked from one end of the boardwalk to the other, which is about two miles. I was happy about the weather. Less people would be traversing the slippery wooden boards, so I could walk at my own pace and not worry about slowing down or speeding up to overtake another walker or to maintain a comfortable distance. But I swear, as soon as I left my house, as soon as I bounded down the steps of my front porch, it started raining harder. I tucked my iPod in my pants to keep it dry, and that sort of worked. By the time I was done, rainwater was dripping from my face and my elbows. I was soaked through.

But I wasn’t upset about it. On the contrary, I felt beautiful and invincible. It was just a little bit of rain, but it felt like I had conquered something. There were kids riding bikes with helmets over the hoods of their jackets, and I passed three other people walking but I think they were hippies in the truest sense of the word because the one guy didn’t even have shoes. But I was outside in the weather and I was up and moving. I didn’t cry alone in my bedroom; I didn’t let the depression win. I thought about crying, letting my tears be camouflaged by the rain, but if I had cried, it would have been because I felt free. I was being productive and I didn’t have to be trapped by a n y t h i n g; not by the way I felt or looked or anything at all.

So what does this mean for my writing? Well, I was productive; I wrote a little tawdry scene that likely won’t become anything but it was good practice in writing dialogue, I think. And I finished my entry for Owl Canyon Press’s Hackathon Contest (interested in entering yourself? You can find everything you need here). My beta reader is going to read it over and give me a brutally honest opinion. Fingers crossed, folks. Oh, and the beta reader is also reading through what I hope is my final revision of Moody Blue. If no agent or publisher bites, then no big deal. It’ll be on to bigger and better projects. I have plenty of ideas.

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As for Ireland … I’ve requested my official transcripts from my alma mater. Then I need two letters of recommendation and I’ll have to send in 3,000 words of original writing. That’ll be due in November.

I sketched something for the first time ever yesterday. My friend’s going to walk me through painting it and I’m just super proud of my level of creativity lately.

And I clicked on an Instagram ad about this band called “Wallows,” and it didn’t disappoint. They have a video for an incredibly catchy single called “Scrawny,” which you can watch here. I think it popped up on my feed because I’ve been posting a lot about “13 Reasons Why” (new season is awful) and the actor who plays Clay Jensen (real name: Dylan Minette) is the lead singer. You can watch the video here, but I’m warning you … it’s real catchy.

Sorry for the sporadic nature of this post, but things are good, and I feel like rambling about everything I’m excited and passionate about.

On still insisting to see the ghosts.

Published September 13, 2017 by mandileighbean

Hello all! Welcome to another edition of Writers’ Wednesdays!

And boy, do I have a story for you. It’s quite the story; so much so that I have decided to forego the weekly writing prompt to share this story.

School started up a week ago, so I’ve been busy. Mostly, I feel overwhelmed and exhausted just trying to keep up with all the demands, but I also know this is partly because I’m hormonal and partly because I’m recovering from the extreme lethargy of summer break. It appears that more than my muscles entered a nearly lethal state of atrophy. To escape all of that ugliness, I was really looking forward to seeing “IT,” the new adaptation of the Stephen King novel of the same name. Well, for all of those reasons and because it would be a welcome return to familiar territory.

Even only an occasional reader of this blog knows that I’m something of a Stephen King fanatic. I think he’s absolutely brilliant. I’ve read most of his work – even the writing under his pseudonym of Richard Bachman – and I’ve seen all of the adaptations; the good, the bad, and the ugly. I’ve seen him at readings at least three times and have traveled out of state to do so. Next to F. Scott Fitzgerald, he’s my favorite author. And of all his works, IT has a special place in my heart and has affected me in a very profound way. I remember finishing the monster of a novel (pun very much intended) with a stunning clarity. I remember I was on the way to one of my twin sister’s many athletic competitions at our local high school, practically dragged kicking and screaming to help watch our little brother who is ten years our junior. I was sitting in the last seat of this monstrosity of a vehicle (last pun, I promise), this huge, black van that I absolutely despised. It was roomy, it was comfortable, it was a logical purchase, but it had a television. That’s not a bad thing, unless you were like me: a fifteen-year-old girl who considered herself rather literary and therefore superior. In a silent, pointless protest, I would bring books in the van to avoid the television, which often blared to entertain the other passengers.

I was the worst fifteen-year-old.

On a particularly dreary day, on my way back to the high school against my will, I was in the van and I was reading. I was going to finish IT, and I did so sobbing. The story is so beautiful, and I wept with a palpable, pulsating kind of ache because I wanted so desperately to be an integral part of a team on an important mission. I wanted so badly to have a shared purpose who loved me so much they would die for me, people who weren’t family so loving me would be a choice, more of a conscious decision. I wanted a Losers Club. I wanted to make and keep a promise to be a hero. I wanted to be an adult who was still a child. In short, I wanted everything that was in the novel. I needed it to be real.

Until September 8th of this year, the best I could was re-watch a badly outdated miniseries (that I still cherish, just to be clear).

I was so excited for the new adaptation, I made plans with a friend to purchase tickets early for a fancy theater with reclining leather seats, massive screens, and speakers that boomed so loud you can feel their vibrations inside your chest. I was going to travel to a movie theater in Howell that I’d never been to, that had only opened a few years ago. I posted about the adaptation and my plans on social media for months. I can’t remember the last time I was so excited for a movie (if I had to guess, it’d be the last “Harry Potter” movie).

And the film did not disappoint. At the time of this post, I’ve already seen it twice. If you haven’t seen the movie, do yourself a favor and make plans to go and see the movie. Whether or not you’ve read the massive novel, the story is brilliantly told with great care. That being said, the movie is also incredibly disturbing. It effortlessly gets underneath your skin and catches you at random moments throughout the day. It stays with you, changes you.

When I left the theater, my stomach hurt from the anxiety. My muscles were sore from cramping and my mind was reeling. All I wanted to do was talk about what I had seen, purge the myriad of my emotions onto my companions, relive the film’s best moments. But once we left the theater, we were told we could not enter the lobby and could not even go past the podium where tickets were ripped for admission. We saw a line of employees, a kind of human barricade. It was unsettling and unnerving, even more so because we stumbled , blinking into the lights of reality from a nightmare of a film. We weren’t told why we couldn’t leave, but rumor among the large number of people leaving theaters and filling the hallway was that something was going on in the parking. We nervously shifted for about ten minutes before deciding to go the bathroom. The females in my group pressed through the tense crowd, doing our best to politely make a path, and happened to pass a female police officer. She was busily making her way through the crowd and was being asked for information at every turn. We heard her say that we were safe inside the building, and that if we wanted to be extra safe, we would move further down the hallway and away from the glass windows.

I swallowed hard. I could tell the other women in my group were nervous and upset, so I did my best to stay calm and lighthearted. All the same, we moved down the hallway.

We were inside the theater for about forty minutes. People were making themselves comfortable, plugging phone chargers into available outfits, sitting on the floor and leaning against the wall. People were preparing for a long haul, and why shouldn’t they? There was lack of information and our phones were dying one by one. Finally, an intimidatingly muscular police office got the crowd’s attention and said we could leave as long as we stayed behind him, proceeded in an orderly fashion, and kept our voice down.

My stomach flipped over.

We did as instructed, my friends and I holding onto each other as we followed the officer. He led us to the far end of the hallway and through a rear exit out the side of the building. We left the doors, trampled over gravel along a chain link fence and ended up in an adjacent parking lot. We were not allowed to go to our cars; the parking lot was being searched and the police had established a perimeter. We waited for another twenty minutes in the chilly night air, rehashing everything that had happened so far and asking for any news. I called my father just before my phone died and asked him to pick us up; we weren’t sure when we’d be allowed back in the cars.

We saw cop cars go speeding by.

My dad arrived just as the police began to let people return to their cars and leave. I still went home with my dad, still seeking some familiar comfort and not wanting to be alone (I never really want to be alone). Saying goodbye to my friends, I smiled and agreed that we’d have a hell of a story to share.

But when I got in my dad’s truck, I cried. I cried really hard because I had been so scared. There was the movie and then there was the reality, and I was scared of both, and I was scared that they could never be distinguished between, and I was tired.

The employee who ripped our tickets, who guided us to the theater, who I bantered with for a few brief moments, was arrested because he had an inert hand grenade, two handguns – one of which was loaded – and hollow-point ammunition in his car. A fellow employee told the manager something was wrong, and the manager called the police. One of the theaters had an off-duty cop just trying to relax and catch a flick.

Thank God for the police, and thank God no one was hurt.

Leave it to Stephen King to scar me in unpredictable ways.

 

On the struggle with technology.

Published March 5, 2016 by mandileighbean

I absolutely loathe my dependence on technology.

I know this may seem like quite the hypocritical statement as I am using my computer and the internet and social media to update my narcissistic, self-indulgent blog, but hear me out. I want to be a writer, so in this digital age of selfies and tweets and whatnot, I’m going to have to adapt and get on board or die (metaphorically speaking, of course). If people take to Google and social media for book recommendations, I have to be on Google and social media. It’s a concession I can live with to help build my writing career. It’s almost unavoidable.

So let me rephrase my earlier statement: I absolutely loathe my dependence on technology in my personal life.

My phone is nearly always in my hand. If I’m not texting (but hardly anyone ever messages me because I physically interact with those who matter most, which is certainly a good thing) or checking e-mail (does anything important ever really come via email?), then I’m using Safari to check Facebook (I deleted the app to make a statement, but I found a way to be on the social media site constantly anyway). I’m scrolling and scrolling and scrolling on Instagram and Twitter, looking for likes, re-tweets, mentions, whatever. When there’s nothing satisfying there, I play Bubble Mania, Candy Crush or Tetris. I’m always looking down, disengaged and only pretending to listen to the authentic life happening all around me because I’m obsessed with this piece of technology and all the artificiality that goes along with it.

It’s my greatest weakness, and what I dislike about myself the most.

In my opinion (so please only take it for whatever it may be worth), social media only reinforces the crippling need for outside validation that seems to plague the human race. I recently traveled to Philadelphia to see David Cook in concert with my sister, and I took pictures. That in itself would be harmless if the intention had been true, if I had honestly taken pictures to create memories. However, creating and saving and storing memories was only part of my motivation. I wanted to take those pictures so I could upload them to Instagram and Facebook so I could count the likes and comments so I could feel cool and hip and modern, so I could feel like I belonged at the metaphorical watering hole of this super progressive, hyper intellectual, digital age. How stupid. How vain. Why do I need everyone to know where I am and what I am doing at all times? Why do I think everyone wants to know where I am and what I am doing at all times? If I put everything out there all the time, there’s no mystery left. I’m essentially robbing people the opportunity of getting to know me because I’ve created this false persona using technology and social media which could easily satisfy anyone even remotely curious. I’ve created an alternate version of myself for the masses and have rendered myself lonelier than ever. What kind of masochistic nonsense is that?

A wonderful colleague recently told me she’d read a few of my blog entries. She complimented me on my writing (yay!), but said I broke her heart (oh no!). She told me I was too hard on myself, and I know this to be true. Self-deprecation is usually the only humor I can handle, and I am constantly screaming at myself for all of the awkward, dumb, harmful, and lazy behaviors I engage in on a daily basis. Reaching for my phone and idling instead of reaching for a book to expand my mind fulfills all of those categories. It’s awkward to sit in a room – any room at anytime, anywhere – full of wonderfully interesting humans and ignore all of them to go on a phone. It’s dumb to not expand one’s mind and perception through reading, writing or conversation and instead retreat to multicolored candies that need crushing. It’s harmful because it perpetuates the idea that self-love is indulgent and ugly, and that worth is truly determined by society and the media and this new social media. We are all forced to become our own PR people and it’s weird and gross, and I dislike it more and more the more I think about it. It’s lazy because all I need is my thumb and a pair of glazed-over eyes.

Now, I’m not saying I’ll go completely off the grid by any means. Family and friends and loved ones can be scattered from one end of the globe to the other, so it is important to stay connected. I love that my aunt in Pennsylvania likes the memes I share about weight loss, and I love that she likes the sexy pictures of Elvis I find and post from time to time. I love that my cousins in Alabama can be brought up to speed with my life by a few pictures here and there, and vice versa. My coworker is going to the Big Apple today to see “The Crucible” on Broadway, and I’m looking forward to pictures and her review. My cousin is currently overseas serving his country, so we need the social media to keep in touch, to share messages of love and support. These are harmless human connections that are beautiful and wonderful.

But it’s all about moderation, right? It’s all about keeping our minds right and prioritizing.

The best part about the David Cook concert was not the blurry pictures I posted on Instagram a few hours later. It was spending time with my sister. It was shouting out the word “bipartisan” when David was struggling to find it, him thanking me for doing so, and my sister rolling her eyes because I’m “such an English teacher.” What a beautiful moment to feel validated about my passion and career. I did all of that without my phone. When my former phone was destroyed last month and I was without a phone for a few days, I survived. The world did not end. I was okay.

I did lose thousands of pictures, though. That was my own fault because I never backed them up using my computer. I assumed those treasured images would always be on that phone, because I tricked myself into believing technology is infallible and perfect and the answer to every question I ever had. That is simply not true, and I just feel that if I remind myself of that, I’ll regain faith in nature and people and all that surrounds me.

I fell in love with a great friend, but he didn’t feel the same way, and the friendship has since changed and is beginning to fade. Some of the pictures I lost were of the absolute greatest day we ever spent together. This makes me sad for many valid reasons. However, I was inspired to write this post (but really, it’s become a rant, hasn’t it? My bad) because in mourning the loss of the digital images that I never printed (what a metaphor for the relationship, huh? I’ll save that for my next novel), I realized that I felt I needed the pictures because I didn’t trust myself, didn’t trust my own memories and feelings. Those pictures became a kind of talisman that helped me pretend the friendship wasn’t fading, that I was right about everything, so look, look everyone! Look how we’re smiling with our arms around each other! I’m not crazy! There was something there, and I can prove it!

Why should I have to? I don’t have to, and that’s my point. I want to reduce my dependence on technology and social media in my personal life because I need to love myself and my life in reality. I don’t need the approval of others, and I don’t need to know everything about everyone because then what will our conversations be made of? What will I discover in intimate moments?

When I’m at the dentist’s office, or waiting for friends at a bar, I’ll pull out my journal or a book, but never my phone. That’s a new resolution. That’s a promise to myself.

I’ll post to promote my writing and my writing career, but not to start some drama or for attention or to start a pity party. That’s a new resolution. That’s a promise to myself.

And now, I’ll post those pictures of me and my sister and David Cook, since I invited you in.

Enjoy the weekend. xoxo

 

 

On being the Duckie.

Published February 21, 2016 by mandileighbean

prettyinpink

I love 80’s culture; movies, music, fashion – all of it. I’m something like a girl anachronism, born 18 years too late. I should have come of age in that decade of magic, of decadence. It was the last era of wholesomeness (even despite the extravagance). Things really seemed possible then.

One of the greatest artistic – and yes, I used the word “artistic” – endeavors from that decade is the movie “Pretty in Pink.” I wrote a blog post two years ago about when I met Andrew McCarthy and was irrevocably charmed. He was intelligent, charismatic, and incredibly talented. Because of my undying affection for the actor, I can honestly say I’ve seen that film close to twenty times. One such time was Wednesday night, when a good friend and I traveled close to an hour to watch the movie on the big screen. The film was released for a brief second time to commemorate its 30th anniversary.

We knew the lines, we knew the plot, and we knew the music. What sense did it make to pay to see the film? One could argue it did not make any sense at all, but then again, I was shocked to see how many others had traveled to see a movie they’d already seen. I have always had a decidedly human problem of thinking my inclinations and hobbies are unique and singular and special. I’m proven wrong time and time again, but in frustratingly human fashion, I’m still always surprised when I realize my passions are shared.

At any rate, the film as was entertaining as ever, and there was something thrilling about seeing it on the big screen. I could imagine I hadn’t missed my favorite decade, that it was opening weekend and I was enjoying it all in real time for the first time. In danger of overdosing on nostalgia that was never really mine to begin with, my good friend leaned over and asked me if I ever had a “Duckie” while attending high school.

For those of you who may not know, Duckie is a character from the film. He’s hopelessly, shamelessly, desperately, and even embarrassingly devoted to his best friend, madly in love and utterly heartbroken over the unrequited nature of the relationship. He admits he would die for her, stands by and patiently suffers as she chases after another guy, and even lets her go so she can fulfill her wildest, romantic dreams while his remain unfulfilled. It may not be as traumatic and dramatic as all that, but forgive me; I have never had a Duckie.

I’ve always been Duckie.

I’ve always been the friend in the background, lingering and pining secretly – sometimes creepily – for a friend I never really had a chance with. I remember at one high school dance, I was asked by a mutual friend to break up with her boyfriend for her; a boy who was my close friend and whom I had been crushing on fairly seriously. Why I agreed to be the harbinger of such devastation I’ll never know. Maybe it was because I was eager for any excuse to talk to the boy, and maybe because such an episode could escalate and strengthen the friendship. I hope it was because I wanted him to hear it from me, a real friend, because I could soften the blow and handle the whole thing delicately, properly. Whatever the reason, I took a deep breath to steady myself, to prepare myself, and left the gymnasium. I stepped out of the double doors and into the bright hallway, blinking against the harsh fluorescent lights. I looked for my friend, and he wasn’t hard to find.

He had tried to hide himself on the far side of a short but wide trophy case, but his long legs stuck out. He was sitting on the gross floor with his back against the uncomfortable and random brick wall. He was opposite the refreshment table, but despite the flurry of activity, he was looking down at the dirty floor with a can of soda clutched in his hand. He was out there all alone and looking especially despondent, like he already knew what was coming. I breathed a small sigh of relief; my job would be easier. I walked over and sat beside him.

“Hey,” I said.

“Hey,” he said.

I figured it’d be best to just come out with it, do it fast like ripping off a band-aid. “Hannah wanted me to-”

“Yeah, I know,” he said. He cut me off, but didn’t say anything else. He took a swig from his can.

“Oh,” I said. I was slightly dismayed by the building, awkward silence. I looked down at my hands and tried to think of what else to say.

“You don’t have to sit out here with me,” he mumbled. He hadn’t made eye contact with me.

“I know I don’t have to. I want to,” I smiled. He looked up and returned the smile.

I don’t remember the rest of the conversation, but I remember we had a good time. So while being Duckie can be limiting and heartbreaking, it’s also pretty awesome because being a friend is awesome. Sometimes a friend is all a person needs.

Or at least that’s what I’ve been telling myself as of late.

 

 

On knowing you’re alive and here for a reason, and knowing that it’s okay not to know why just yet.

Published December 14, 2014 by mandileighbean

It’s been almost two months since the last time I posted an entry.  I’m ashamed and feeling guilty about it because I always promised myself that writing – and the promotion of my writing – would be a priority, but here I am, placing it upon a burner far in the back, which may not even light, because I have become consumed with work and its corresponding extracurricular activities.  I never thought I would delay a dream for a boring adult responsibility like employment.  I never wanted to become boring or sell out.  The question then becomes why am I doing it?  I think it’s time to completely buck convention and go utterly transcendental.  This summer, I plan to walk the entire eastern coast of the state of New Jersey using the East Coast Greenway.  I was inspired by Thoreau, Emerson and Cheryl Strayed, author of her memoir Wild, which has been turned into a film of the same name starring Reese Witherspoon.  Lately, I’ve been feeling like I need to get away to figure myself out.  I became a stranger in the sense that I’ve been letting secondary elements control my emotions and ultimately make my decisions.  As a result, I don’t exactly know what I want or who I am, and feeling lost is an awful and terrible feeling.  I feel like a phony – like an imitation of an imitation – and I worry those I love and admire are getting sick of my narcissistic shenanigans.

I’ve got to get back to my basics; back to writing.

WRITING PROMPT #19: A man comes to believe that he is an emissary of God when he survives a plane crash in which all other passengers are killed.

Brian Johnson was laying upon a gurney, being rushed along the tarmac to the waiting ambulance.  Its back doors were open, and its lights were flashing soundlessly in the frigid crispness of the December evening.  Brian saw the distance to the ambulance shorten as he was gently jostled over the smooth pavement, rocked into a soothing kind of trance.  He was eager to become numb and absent because after all, it had been one hell of a day.  No one wakes up in the morning expecting to be the sole survivor of a plane crash, particularly one that smashes against the ground on the runway of the desired destination, so close to home.

The flight had been en route to Atlantic City, landing at the small airport.  Passengers had been composed of family members traveling to reunite with other family members for the impending holiday.  Brian had been one of the few singletons, and as such, he had been crammed into a row with a family just trying to survive.  Luckily, he had the seat nearest the window.  Beside him was a precious and precocious brunette who was about four years old.  Next to her was a harried-looking mother with an infant cradled in her arms, and beside the mother was the exhausted father who also cradled an infant in his arms; twins.  A small smile twitched Brian’s lips as he observed the family, quiet and tired, not talking to one another, and seemingly blissfully happy to be seated and finally ready to go.  The little girl was bouncing a teddy on her knee, singing some nonsense song Brian had once known but had long forgotten upon leaving the playground so many years ago.

Some time after takeoff, Brian had adorned his ear buds, cranked the volume on his iPod, and fallen asleep.  He was terrified of flying and only boarded planes when there was absolutely no other alternative, so he only survived when he slept through it.  Surviving a flight had taken on a completely different meaning when Brian awoke to terrified screams.  His eyes shot open and he savagely ripped the ear buds from his ears.  Everything was shaking wildly; it was the worst turbulence Brian had ever experienced.  He had only ever seen it in cliched horror films.  He was looking this way and that, but found no answers or comfort, only faces grotesquely contorted into unadulterated terror.  The oxygen mask suddenly fell before his face and Brian knew this was it.  It was all ending and he wasn’t entirely sure how that knowledge made him feel.  He turned to the family beside him, saw the mother and father enclose their infant children, and saw the little girl squeezing the teddy, sobbing.  Without thinking about it, he encircled her in his arms and felt relieved when her tiny hands grabbed onto the fabric of his shirt.

And that was all he remembered.

Brian regained conscious on the ground.  Everything ached and burned, and he only saw things in blurred images.  He could smell smoke but he couldn’t hear anything over the sound of his own breathing.  For an irrational moment, he wondered if he was under water.  His legs and back felt wet, but then there were people standing above him, looking down with shocked faces.  He was trying to tell them that he felt weird, and that he couldn’t hear, but they couldn’t seem to hear either.  They went about their business as if he wasn’t screaming.  He was lifted up and onto the gurney and he was being ushered to the waiting ambulance.

As Brian rolled right along, his head flopped to the side and he saw the sheets, the countless sheets covering the countless, mutilated bodies of his fellow passengers.  One such sheet had a charred teddy bear beside it and Brian knew he should be dead.  He should have died.  But he didn’t, and Brian considered what that might mean.  Maybe he had been spared.  He thought back to late nights spent with his father on their screened-in back porch, where his father smoked like a chimney and pontificated at length about religion and politics and women and family and life and death and everything in between.  He had once told his son that God had a plan for everyone and that everything happened for a reason.  His father claimed that’s what the scientists really meant when they insisted that for every action, there was an equal and opposite reaction.

So the plane had gone down, and Brian was still breathing.  What was God’s plan?  Was Brian supposed to value life in a way he hadn’t?  Because to be frank, he thought he had been living life to the fullest and if there was some part of it he wasn’t quite getting, then Brian thought the Big Man didn’t have to be so dramatic; a little subtlety never hurt anyone.

How to explain the dead little girl and the burned teddy bear.  What was the rationale behind that?  Then again, maybe that was why Brian had been spared, to figure it out.  Maybe Brian was supposed to tell the world about the family beside him and their love to the very end and that protective instinct.  Maybe such a story would inspire others, give them hope, and help Brian from feeling guilty.

But maybe it was just fucking chaos.  Slipping in and out of consciousness, it was hard for Brian to tell.

planecrash

On being rich.

Published October 6, 2013 by mandileighbean

The older I grow, the more I believe that life truly does have a rather funny way of helping one out.  I am fortunate enough to find myself in winning situations more often than not.  For example, my dad offered to take me to see a film and then out to eat on Friday night.  My little brother came along, and we saw “Runner Runner” with Justin Timberlake and Ben Affleck.  The movie was thoroughly entertaining (and I found Ben Affleck to be particularly engaging … and handsome) and as we were walking out of the theater, we were all intrigued by a small crowd outside.  They were all females; seven teenagers and two middle-aged women.  Dad, being the ultimate nosey body, asked what was up, and one of the women admitted they were in a bit of a pickle.  Apparently, the women had dinner plans and purchased tickets for the teenagers to see “Prisoners.”  However, because the movie was rated R, the employee who had sold the tickets insisted an adult over twenty-one years of age accompany the girls for the duration of the film and assured the women there would be a theater check conducted to prevent any kind of circumvention.  Dad started laughing because I had in fact argued for seeing “Prisoners,” even though he had already seen it with my little brother a week or so ago.  There I was, offered an opportunity to see a movie I was very anxious to see, for free.  It isn’t a cosmically epic moment that decides the fates of nations or anything as brilliant, but it is a moment nonetheless.  It is also the kind of moment that is readily and often attainable.  I wonder if I shouldn’t chase small smile moments such as those, rather than scenes from silver screens.

I know I’ll chase both.

 

WEEKLY PROMPT #3: “Four men decide to rob a bank.  Two of the men intend to take all of the money, even if it means killing their partners.”

bankrobbery1THIEVES

Harvey sat at the end of the emptying bar, a tumbler of warming whiskey before him.  He held his face in his hands, calloused palms scratched by the thick, rough bristles of hair coating his jawline and chin.  It had been a while since the last time Harvey had shaved, most likely because it had been a while since the last time Harvey had identified any reason to shave.  Pride in personal appearance had a tendency to go by the wayside when one found himself unemployed and miserable.  It was that exact desperation that had led him here, to this seedy bar.  Jeff, a buddy from Harvey’s old job, had stopped by the apartment to see how Harvey was making out.  The accumulated trash and lack of even basic maintenance had concerned Jeff, and so he sat Harvey down and shared a detailed yet outrageous plan to rob the local bank.  Harvey had scoffed until her saw the serious lines of Jeff’s face pull together in an almost convincing display.  Inexplicably outraged, Harvey had leapt to his feet and roared about laws and safety and the improbability of making it out of there alive, let alone with the money.  Jeff had persistent, however, and calmed Harvey down and inspired him with a dangerous kind of optimism that only desperate and miserable men are capable of.  Thus, Harvey had followed Jeff to the Bar Miraculous to meet with the others, some guys named Ben and Matt that Harvey had never seen before.  Ben was big and brawny, an intimidating fellow who seemed to dutifully follow Matt wherever and whenever.  Matt was significantly smaller than his counterpart, and to see them seated beside one another at the bar would have made John Steinbeck nostalgic for his ranchers in Soledad.

The men had sat side by side at the bar, four in a row.  They rarely, if ever, made eye contact with one another, and they talked out of the sides of their mouths, although Harvey hadn’t said a word.  He had only nodded or grunted to show his approval and consent.  The plan had been developed mainly by Matt, with Jeff tweaking and augmenting here and there as he seemed to be more familiar with the area and even the employees.  The next course of action was to meet at Matt’s apartment in two nights, to case the bank the night before.  They would also discuss further details and tighten any and all loose ends; dot the Is and cross the Ts as it were.  Suddenly and simply, Matt and Ben had excused themselves and left.  Jeff clapped Harvey on the shoulder and headed to the restroom.  Thus, Harvey had been left to his own devices, to sit and drink and think.  He wasn’t sure how he felt, how truly on board he was.  Robbers never got away with it, not even in the movies, and they were not professionals by any stretch of the imagination.  They were bums, average Joes who had suffered no great tragedy, but only wanted more than what they had faster than they could acquire it.  Planning to rob a bank did not make them some antiheroes or anything as glamorous.  It did not make them intelligent or brave.  If anything, it defined them as lazy and cruel and dumb, dumb for taking such an absurd risk.  They were no Dillinger, seemingly stealing from the rich.  They were the poor so they would take and keep for themselves; where was the honor in that?  Amidst Harvey’s existential sort of crisis, Jeff returned.  There was the familiar clap on the shoulder and groan of the aged, wooden bar stool as Jeff reclaimed his seat.

“So what do you think?  How are you feeling?”

Harvey shrugged and took the tumbler before him in his hand.  Rather than sip from it, he moved his wrist to swirl the alcohol and he pensively watched the liquid lap against the sides.  “I don’t know, man.  It’s awfully risky.”

“It is,” Jeff conceded, “but look at us, man.  Look at our lives, for Christ’s sake.  We work too God damn hard to be this fucking poor.”  He drank deeply from the bottle before him.  “Shit, they kicked you to the curb.  How long do you figure you’ll kick around, practically begging for a job, any job, even if it’s below your pay grade and skill level?  What way is that for anyone to live?”

“I agree, you know I do, but –”

“Matt has everything figured out, Harvey.  He has it timed to the fucking second, I shit you not.  As long as we stick to the time table, we’ll be fine, just about untouchable.”  Jeff smiled.  “What have you got to lose?”

Harvey was not amused.  “Oh, I don’t know; my life?  My freedom?”  In fact, Harvey was only sarcastic and bitter.

“It’s a solution to a problem,” Jeff persisted.  “We need money, so we take money.  We’re talking enough to get the hell out of dodge and start over.  We can be whoever we want to be.  We don’t have to be losers who go home alone night after night in cars that barely start in clothes off the clearance rack.”  He looked down at the wooden grain of the countertop of the bar.  He lowered his voice.  “And if we knock off Matt and Ben, pin it on them and silence them, we can get away scot free.”

Harvey’s eyes went wide.  “What?”

“The only thing holding you back is getting caught, right?  Of course it is; that makes sense!  So let’s eliminate that and we are suddenly completely uninhibited!”

“Stealing is one thing, Jeff, but murder is another.  I can’t –”

“You’re going to go all noble on me, really?  Do I have to remind you about the office Christmas party?  Nancy was all sorts of messed up, but that didn’t stop you from –”

“Shut up,” Harvey said.  He had intended it to be a command, but it had been more of a desperate plea.  That’s all he was, was desperate.  Jeff knew it, and seized upon the opportunity.

“Come on, man.  They’re nothing to us.  We could be doing the universe a karmic favor.  What do you say?”

Harvey looked at himself for a long, long moment in the cracked mirror above the shelves of liquor.

bankrobbery

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