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On the inability to stop questioning.

Published August 11, 2015 by mandileighbean

I’ve just finished Harper Lee’s GO SET A WATCHMAN.
WARNING: Spoilers abound.

I was determined to hate this book. I didn’t agree with how the novel started, what with Jem dead and gone. I was treating it as a sequel rather than its own masterpiece, which it assuredly is, and was being stupid and small. I was behaving much in the same way Jean Louise was, confident in a supreme intelligence that nothing and no one could surprise me because I know it all inside out. But Jean Louise did not know her father as a human, did not know all the delicate intricacies of her hometown. She needed to see Atticus as a human being, with flaws (which boil down to opinions other than her own), just as the reader did. Lee is a masterful storyteller because she discreetly forces you along Jean Louise’s journey and does so flawlessly. Her revelations become the readers’ revelations and another invaluable lesson is imparted to a generation; that you can love someone and disagree with them, that parents are still people, and that we never, ever stop learning or growing. Beautifully written, perfectly executed; well done.

I cursed myself for starting the novel, firmly believing that there is information not worth knowing. I lumped this novel in with such information, but the pain that comes from realizations and revelations is how human beings grow. Though knowledge can come with a terrible cost at times, I suppose it’s up to each individual to decide when enough is enough. There is no hard and fast rule for when ignorance becomes bliss. Furthermore, I think that’s a lesson we all learn in time, in our own terribly painful way.

WEEKLY WRITING PROMPT #26: “While at a family reunion, a teenage brother and sister find an old suitcase filled with money under their uncle’s bed.”

The car slowly rolled to a halt at the end of the long, meandering driveway. The gravel crunched beneath the tires in a finite, satisfying way. David didn’t move. In no way did he acknowledge the end of the journey. He left his ear buds in, music blaring, and his forehead remained against the cool glass of the car window. His eyes were wide open but unfocused so that his vision was blurred and doubled in a disorienting way. David could have stayed that way for hours and hours, long after the sun sank down and disappeared, but his twin sister gave his arm an affectionate pinch. It didn’t hurt or anything, but it was enough to snap him out of it and bring him back to reality. He carelessly yanked his ear buds out and turned to face Savannah. “C’mon bud,” she said. She was smiling, but it was small and too sad to be sweet. David decided it was horrible and would have preferred Savannah to frown, or wail, or scream – anything else. “We’re here. We’ve got to get our stuff from the back,” she instructed. She turned away and climbed down from the family SUV. He mumbled “okay” pointlessly – no one was listening – and climbed down himself.
David hopped down and looked at his feet, comfortably clad in athletic slides and tube socks. Savannah was always giving him grief for that particular fashion choice, but David didn’t understand her frustration or her condemnation. He didn’t dress any differently than anyone else on the baseball team. Now that he thought about it, he realized his conformity was most likely the point of contention concerning his wardrobe. Currently, one side of Savannah’s head was shaved and the remaining locks were long and pink, a bright pink. As David moved to stand beside his twin sister, he surveyed her torn, black leggings, stained shirt featuring some band that had called it quits long before the Newbury twins were born, and the silver hoop stuck through her right nostril. Savannah was a rebel without a cause, to be sure. The hand that reached for a pink backpack of imitation leather featured fingernails adorned with chipped, black nail polish. David had never bothered to observe his other half, had never bothered to ask what it all was for. Death, he supposed, had that effect on some people.
Savannah felt David’s eyes upon her. Belongings secured in her grasp, she turned to face. “Why don’t you take a picture? It’ll last longer,” she said in a husky, laboring tone in her best imitation of a dumb, schoolyard bully. As she passed to enter her aunt’s massive and impressive log cabin with wonderfully modern and convenient amenities, she playfully slammed her shoulder into David’s. It caused him to rock back on his heels and he started to chase after Savannah, which caused her to shriek and scurry inside.
“Yeah, that’s what I thought,” David called after her. He offered the world a satisfied smile as he reached in for his own black duffle bag.

Later, David stood in the doorway of a bedroom on the third floor, the top floor of the cabin without counting the attic. He was to sleep in this room while his family stayed with Aunt Cheryl, who had just lost her husband. Uncle Doug had been killed in a rare attempted carjacking in town, a small town that was half an hour from the cabin, a small town whose name was only known, and not even cherished, by the locals. It was bizarre and tragic set of events, of circumstances, but wasn’t that always the way with death? If its patterns were readily, easily identifiable and thereby predictable, then the problem of the lack of longevity in humans would be solved. But David was not one for deep, philosophical thoughts, nor was he prone to entertaining existential crises. He shook his head and stepped into the room.
It felt weird, like the air was heavier or something equally irrational and beyond explanation or articulation. Savannah’s fashionable backpack rested atop the twin bed farthest from the door and nearest to the adjoining bathroom. The other bed straight ahead and against the breathtaking, full length windows, would be his. It had always been that way; all the innumerable visits to Cheryl and Doug’s cabin had begun in this exact same way. It was familiar yet not. The room was decidedly different, but not in any way that would make sense to anyone but David. He sighed.
It was nearly eight o’clock, but it was mid-July, so the room was filled with glorious, burning natural light courtesy of the giant windows. It should have been beautiful, but David only blinked once and turned away. He returned to the dark, cool, carpeted hallway and threw his duffle bag carelessly. It landed in the center of the room. David left it, hurrying downstairs to the muted sounds of idle conversation passed among grieving family members.
David moved to stand behind his mother, his sister, and his aunt. They were standing in a peculiarly straight row, looking out the tall, wide, sliding glass doors. David fell in line, took his place beside his sister, and tried to match their gaze. Though the lawn was a massive series of rolling hills, there was nothing of particular interest, nothing he hadn’t seen before. There were the cows and goats and donkeys and horses, moving slowly, grazing calmly, like this was a day like any other, as if the human who brought out the hay three times a day wasn’t dead and cold and gone. David thought it was a curse to be a sentient being. “What are we looking at?” David asked Savannah discreetly through the corner of a clenched jaw.
“Dad,” she answered, in the same discreet fashion. “He’s just been standing out there, staring. He’s been like this for at least ten minutes.”
David turned to his sister, concerned. “Shouldn’t someone go out there and check on him?”
“I’ll go out there in a minute or two,” answered Mom. Both David and Savannah whipped their heads in their mother’s direction, surprised she had overheard, had eavesdropped and then given herself away by responding. She had not turned to face her children but had remained stoic and still with her eyes locked on her husband. “He’s grieving for his brother, guys. There’s no right or wrong way to do that.” It wasn’t an admonishment or anything, it was just a statement, a fact there was no arguing with. In the same cool, matter-of-fact fashion with which she spoke, Mom slid the doors open, stepped out and slid them shut behind her. For a few moments, the remaining family members watched her progress, felt their breath catch in their throats when Mom stepped a few feet behind her husband and called out to him. He didn’t turn, though. He didn’t respond in any sort of fashion they could readily observe. The husband and wife stayed like that for endless, unbearable minutes. Eventually, Mom moved towards Dad and slipped an arm around his shoulders. It was seconds before he crumbled into her embrace. He was sobbing openly, and it seemed indecent to watch, so his children turned away. They showed their backs to the windows and doors, to all the glass.
Savannah wiped at her eyes soundlessly. David nudged her shoulder with his. “It’ll be okay,” David said. He sounded lame. Savannah was the one who gave comfort, handled situations and convinced David he’d survive. Though they were twins, separated by mere minutes, Savannah had always seemed older, wiser. But now, in the face of seeing her father cry for the first time, she was speechless. She had nothing to offer. Savannah could only nod.
Suddenly, Aunt Cheryl spoke. She said, “I didn’t think it was possible to miss someone so much like that. Huh.” Aunt Cheryl seemed thoughtful, genuinely intrigued by the extravagant, dramatic display of human emotion going on just outside her doors. She busied herself in the kitchen, presumably preparing for a late, supplementary dinner, a second evening meal. David and Savannah exchanged perplexed looks. David didn’t know what was worse, watching his dad weep like a woman outside, or watching his aunt be cold and distant inside, seemingly unmoved by the passing of her husband. David tugged on Savannah’s sleeve and jerked his head to the side, indicating that they should leave and go upstairs. She nodded and followed her brother.

The next day dawned clear and bright. When David padded downstairs in bare feet, he discovered the adults showered, dressed, and heading out.

“What’s up?” David asked.
“We have to head out for a while to handle arrangements,” Mom answered delicately. “There’s cereal and milk for breakfast.”
David nodded. “Anything we can do to help, Ma?”
She smiled warmly and grabbed her only son by his shoulders. “Just make sure you don’t make a mess, okay? Help your aunt out and clean up a little.”
David nodded again. Mom kissed him on the cheek and the adults headed out the door. David set about pouring himself some cereal and was joined by his sister some time later.
The pair cleaned the kitchen, hung around outside, traversed back inside, and watched mindless television. Savannah chucked the remote without warning onto the opposite couch, only narrowly missing David. “We should be celebrating Uncle Doug’s memory, not just sitting here.”
David sighed. “How?” He was used to Savannah’s penchant for sentimentality and dramatics. He’d entertain her today, seeing as how they really was nothing else to do.
“I don’t know,” Savannah admitted with an air of defeat. She thought for a few moments in silence and then said, “We could watch home movies.”
The nostalgia appealed to David and he smiled. “That’s not a bad idea.” He climbed to his feet. “Where do you think Aunt Cheryl keeps them?”
Savannah climbed to her feet and shrugged. “No clue, but let’s look around.”
David hesitated. “Mom told me not to make a mess.”
“We’ll clean up after ourselves,” Savannah laughed. She shook her head at her brother’s momentary lapse in common sense. She hurried upstairs and David followed close behind. She explained that something personal, like home movies, would most likely be in a personal space, like a shared bedroom. David tried to explain his trepidation, how it was weird for him to be in his aunt’s bedroom for many different reasons (including but not limited to relation, gender, age and so on and so forth), but Savannah dismissed her brother’s misgivings with her presence. She assured him it was fine, and advised him to look in the closet and on shelves but not in drawers or cabinets; she’d handle that. The pair commenced searching, coming up with nothing interesting until Savannah released an excited shout.
David turned to his sister, who was spread on her stomach on the floor, peering and reaching underneath the bed. “What are you doing?” he hissed, as if there was anyone home who could hear them. He felt like this was a violation. Why would she look under the bed, anyway? Who kept home movies there? But Savannah was insistent and in just a moment more, she was sliding an antique-looking suitcase out from under the bed.
“How cool is this? It looks like it’s from the 1800s!”
“You should put it back,” David warned. It was cool, for sure, but he was positive there was some reason it was hidden beneath the bed, and David firmly believed ignorance is bliss.
“Why would she keep something this great where no one could see it or appreciate it? Maybe it’s got something awesome in it!”
“Grow up,” David sneered. “The home movies aren’t in there, so put it back, and let’s go up to the attic.”
But Savannah wasn’t listening. She was opening the suitcase and when she did, she screamed. David dropped to his knees. The young siblings were looking at thousands of dollars. Neither had seen so much in person. Both longed to reach out and touch it, to hold it and pretend it was theirs, all theirs. Savannah looked at David with wide eyes. “Why the hell would Aunt Cheryl have all this cash under her bed? Why isn’t it in a bank?”
David shrugged. “Maybe the crash of ’29 left her rattled.”
“She’s not that old, stupid,” Savannah snorted. Her amusement faded. “This is weird. Something doesn’t feel right.”
“Then put it back and let’s look in the attic, like I said,” David offered, climbing to his feet. Savannah carefully closed the suitcase and slid it under the bed. In the attic, they found a couple of dusty shoeboxes with ancient VHS tapes. They hurried down stairs, hoping they’d be able to find a VCR. They were just about to resume their earlier positions on the couches when the doorbell rang. David hurried to answer the door, Savannah in tow.
The opened door revealed two intimidating-looking men in expensive suits. They wore identical, humorless expressions. The one on the left grunted and asked, “Is Cheryl Paton home?”
David frowned. “I’m afraid she’s not. She’s at the funeral home with my parents, making some last arrangements for my uncle. Can I help you?”
The man dug in his coat pocket. “Just tell her we stopped by and give her this card, okay? We want to talk to her about her husband.” He handed over an average-looking business card and looked at David from over his mirror sunglasses. “Have a good day, kid.”
“Thanks,” David said. “You too,” he called as he shut the door. With Savannah breathing down his neck, the pair read the name on the card. Detective Joseph Stanton, it said. What did the cops want with Aunt Cheryl? Maybe they’d made some progress on the case, found the assholes who tried to take his car?
“Think this has anything to do with the money upstairs?” Savannah asked.
Inexplicable chills ran along David’s spine. “Shut up,” he growled, shoving the card in his back pocket. “Help me find a VCR.”

Over another dinner that evening, David handed his aunt the business card. “Some detectives stopped by the house today, Aunt Cheryl. He asked me to give you this card and tell you he wanted to talk to you about your husband.”
Cheryl snatched the card from David’s hand. It surprised David, the urgency of it, and he shifted uncomfortably in his seat. She didn’t say thank you or anything. Cheryl got up and left the room. The extended family was left to its own devices. “That was weird,” David said.
“Yeah, and we found an old suitcase filled with tons of money under her bed while we were looking for the home movies,” Savannah whispered excitedly, looking from Dad to Mom and back again. “What’s that about, huh?”
Dad slammed his fists on the table, eliciting a shriek from Savannah and stunned silence from Dad. He pushed his chair back and away from the table, wood sliding against wood, and stormed from the room. Mom calmly wiped her mouth with her napkin and followed. Savannah turned to David.
“What the hell?” he mouthed.

The next day dawned clear and bright. David awoke to screaming and shouting. He bolted up in bed, flung the bedclothes far from him, and took off. He ran towards the source of all the noise, ran downstairs to find his mom and dad and sister pacing in the kitchen.
“What’s going on? What’s wrong?” David was panicked.
“Cheryl’s gone,” Savannah said. “So is the money. So are her clothes. She just up and vanished.”
David was in disbelief. He asked Savannah to repeat what she had said when Detective Joseph Stanton strolled in. “What money?” he asked.
David looked to Savannah, terror-stricken.

AUTHOR EVENT AND BOOK DISCUSSION!

Published February 11, 2014 by mandileighbean

Hello ladies and gentlemen, and readers of all ages!

Exactly one week from today, Tuesday, February 18th, from 7:00 until 8:00PM at the Toms River Branch of the Ocean County Library, I will be holding a discussion and book signing about my debut novel from Martin Sisters Publishing, entitled HER BEAUTIFUL MONSTER. If you are interested in attending, even if you are not sure you can attend, you MUST register or the event will be cancelled.

SAY YOU’LL BE THERE! The link to register follows:

http://engagedpatrons.org/EventsRegister.cfm?SiteID=2161&BranchID=770&Branch=Toms%20River%20Branch&EventID=195306

As always, thank you for your support and I really, really hope to see you there!

xoxo

AUTHOR EVENT

Published September 19, 2013 by mandileighbean

Hello all!  I know I have been missing in action, but I do have exciting news!  I will be conducting an author event on Tuesday, October 15, 2013 at 7:00PM at the Manchester Branch of the Ocean County Library! There will be a discussion and a book signing!  Please attend and tell everyone you know!

On the fact that yearbooks never lie.

Published July 22, 2013 by mandileighbean

“The space between the tears we cry is the laughter that keeps us coming back for more.”
– Dave Matthews Band

Life, for a complete and utter lack of a better adjective, is crazy.  As people, we experience and live through events that make and/or break us in varying degrees of intensity.  We feel triumph in finding a parking spot near our destination in a crowded city.  We feel triumph when we finally land that dream job or finally purchase the dream car.  We can be devastated if we miss out on an incredible deal.  We can be devastated when we get into a car accident or misplace something valuable.  Every human has major and mini crises throughout the day; there is no revelation in such an observation, but I think what strikes me is how often these events occur and how differently each individual reacts to a particular set of circumstances.  Because of problems within my immediate family, I have been doing some soul searching and deep thinking as of later, and as far as rationalization and understanding go, this paragraph is all I could come up with.  The kick in the proverbial pants is that there is no explanation for all of the things that happen.  And what’s more, even if there was, people would reject what was in front of them in search for something better, something more suited to what they want it all to mean.  Is that cynical?  Am I losing faith?

I finished the first chapter of my next novel, which is currently titled Moody Blue.  I feel proud and accomplished, but I am worried that I rushed the ending of the chapter.  I printed a copy for my mother to read; she helped me edit my first novel and it was only after I took her advice that I was published – and on her birthday, no less.  She’s my good luck charm.

I am currently scheduling an author talk and signing at the Manchester Branch of the Ocean County Library for sometime in October or November.  I think this latter half of 2013 is going to prove to be an exciting time for me.  Between you and I, I need it to be better.  I know I’m not the only one who feels this way.

I went for an ultrasound of my gall bladder last week, and the results came back clean.  My doctor, and my best friend, and my mother, all seem to think it is stress that is tearing my insides apart.  This makes sense to me, especially when I think about how many nights are restless, and how often I toss and turn, unable to escape my own head and the endless list of worries.  I am even beginning to have horrible dreams.  Most recently, I had a dream that featured someone who is dead and has been dead.  In the dream, this person was in a darkened bedroom with only the light from the blaring television and perhaps a bedside lamp.  I do not know if this was inside a house, or an apartment, or what – the surroundings were completely unfamiliar.  As a matter of fact, the person did not even look familiar, but I understood who it was and I knew that this individual was supposed to be dead.  I was in the bedroom, but I had no desire to be there.  It felt horribly wrong and it was bizarre.  The blanket and sheet were pulled down and away so that they pooled near his waist and his bare, pale chest and loose stomach were exposed.  On his chest and stomach was balanced a large glass bowl and two tall glasses.  I made to move them, to pick them up and carry them to a kitchen somewhere.  I was hesitant in approaching because his eyes were only slightly closed.  It was like he was awake and aware, and only pretending to sleep.  I think I called out to him and said his name once or twice.  But I was scared and so I ran, only grabbing the glass bowl which turned out to be full of water (so were the two tall glasses), and the dream ended as quickly as it began.

My father knocks on bedroom doors before entering, even when he know there is no one inside.

Thursday, I traveled to Hartford, Connecticut to listen to Stephen King have a conversation with some pretentious blowhard.  It was 103 degrees, and I walked around Hartford in that ungodly heat in a panic, looking for somewhere to quickly eat before the event began.  I arrived ninety minutes later than I had planned because of horrendous, horrific traffic.  I ate a restaurant called Hook and Ladder, located next to the firehouse.  The décor and atmosphere were great, but I was really disappointed in my grilled cheese sandwich.  I can’t believe I broke my diet for that.  But the event was awesome; King is a brilliant, accessible mind.  He shares my passion for the Boss, believes in God, and believes that love can be and should be and most often is limitless.  Ali from MSU was there, but we didn’t get a chance to speak.  She purchased a copy of his newest book Joyland, pre-signed, for $200.  I used to be that dedicated.  Or maybe I am just more fiscally responsible than I used to be.

There were fireworks that night.  So many cars were pulled over on I-84 to watch them explode.

I hit another 90 minutes of traffic traversing onto the George Washington Bridge.  Such is life.

But I promised in my last entry to accentuate the positive.  So, here goes nothing: I lost seven pounds in my first week of dieting and exercising.  I spent a birthday with two absolutely amazing friends in Brooklyn after surviving the drive in.  I was totally enchanted by Brooklyn and developed a crush on a friend’s neighbor, which is exciting and fun.  I have that story to tell, in my overly romantic way, for next week’s blog.

friends1 friends2

Stay golden. xoxo

On being a bombshell.

Published January 28, 2013 by mandileighbean

Another two pounds lost; I am ecstatic!  I am celebrating personal achievement because when it comes to “The Biggest Loser” competition at work, I am far from being in the lead.  Rumor has it that someone lost seven pounds, and that another participant completed a four-day fast to boost his or her start.  I am not that competitive; winning would be wonderful, but if I lose every week, I will be happy.  The competition is more of a motivating tool than anything else.  The monetary spoils of victory will have no value when measured against how I look, how I feel, and the confidence I will gain.  Although, I might just be saying all of that to make myself feel better about my inevitable loss – only time will tell.

Whenever I mail anything, which is not all that often in this digital age, I am always reminded of that scene in the movie “Grease,” where Marty is sending a letter to her boyfriend in the Marines, so she sprays the exceedingly feminine stationary with her perfume.  Personally, I believe that to be a wonderfully romantic idea.  Just the other day I found myself in the local post office, sending a copy of my novel to a friend and included a short letter.  I penned a heartfelt note using a ballpoint pen filled with royal blue ink onto fashionable stationary, with a black and white paisley boarder around its edges and matching envelopes.  As I licked the edge of the envelope flap to seal it, I thought about what a sensual, intimate gesture it would be leave just the tiniest trace of lipstick around an edge; the faintest clue of my physical existence.  Naturally, this train of thought led me to the scene from the aforementioned movie, and I wondered if lipstick on the envelope and perfume lightly but noticeably scenting the stationary would work, or if the subtlety of it all would be lost on a man.  Do they notice such things?  Would the thought and planning that went into such a gesture be used to evaluate it?  Does anyone ever truly receive back the effort he or she put into an endeavor?  I think it’s a wildly romantic idea; there’s real optimism in the belief that a complete and total return of an emotion exists.

That makes me think of the fictional character Jay Gatsby from the novel The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.  I just ended reading the book with my sophomore students and it is officially my favorite novel of all time.  Its themes and romantic imagery and brutal honesty, with its undeniable cynicism watered down by the an almost untraceable strong hope, reminds me that I am inadequate as a writer (but who isn’t when a novel like The Great Gatsby is the novel against which all others are measured?) and that, like Gatsby, I am terribly lonely and clinging to memories from years ago, formulating schemes based on those ghosts of my pasts and inevitably setting myself up for disappointment and devastation.  That is not to say that I am depressed and delusional – just hopelessly romantic, no matter what the cost.  Some call this naivety, but I believe there is an honorable and dignified kind of stoicism in still believing in the good of people and the power of love, as trite and cheesy and impossible as it may seem.

I did not intend for this entry to be so “deep” (for lack of a better word), but it is a beautifully and bitterly bright Sunday morning and I am on my second cup of coffee.  I feel much like a validated author this morning.  I think the cozy, intellectually stylish sweater I am wearing helps, too.  All I need are thick-framed glasses and all the time in the world, and I could be the perfect picture of writer.  Appearance is half the battle, after all.

Speaking of, the goal of this week’s way to blast my blubber was to “adopt an avatar.”  This goal was remarkably effortless to meet because I have been adopting an avatar every day of my life.  I never see myself for who or what I am, but for who or what I would love to be: a bohemian, artistic intellectual, with the matching wardrobe and accessories.  However, as I become more of a woman and less of a girl, I am tending to gravitate more towards elegance and an understated kind of drama.  I have all of these plans, hopes, and dreams about my future.  I want to be in love with a completely brilliant, brooding, and eccentric man.  I want to be thin with straight, white teeth.  I want to be a wildly successful writer.  All of these wants (that are almost suffocating desires) are within my reach if I am willing to put in the work.  I need to go out more so I can meet new people.  I need to call the dentist and schedule an appointment.  I need to count my calories, keep a food journal, and exercise.  I need to promote my book.  These aforementioned needs are most often rationalized away, pushed aside, and delayed in their realization because currently, I am frustratingly lazy and unfortunately unmotivated.  I watch too much television.  I play too much computer solitaire.  I eat too much.  I sleep too much.  I don’t write enough.  I don’t read enough.

If I want to be a bombshell, I should be a bombshell.  So, my new avatar that I will use to motivate and inspire me on my way to weight loss and creative success, will simply be known as “Bombshell,” and she looks a little something like:

gwenidol

bombshell2

bombshell1

bombshell

Whining and seeking pity are wasteful; a waste of time and a waste of words, which are my two most precious resources.  I need to be about it.  There are no excuses left.  I did earn a full-time teaching job.  A company did publish my book.  My life’s pieces are not going to come together of their own accord and produce a pretty, little picture.  I have to engage my own destiny and put the puzzle pieces in their proper positions.

This is not a revelation or a realization; it is only restating common sense.  I want to live up to the compliments I receive.  The psychology teacher said I looked great, that she could tell I was dieting and exercising, and that it was paying off.  I cannot be a fraud; I have to put in the work.

A respected English teacher complimented my writing.  She said my voice was strong and entertaining, and that my attention to detail was strong.  A math teacher asked me to sign her copy and I was too touched to write anything spectacular.  I hope it was what she wanted.

If I want to be a bombshell, then I should be a bombshell.

If you want to be a bombshell, then you should be a bombshell.

On squirrel crossings.

Published October 9, 2012 by mandileighbean

The other day, when I was driving home from Sussex, I saw a squirrel dash across the Garden State Parkway – across five lanes of speeding traffic – to the other side.  He scurried amongst leaves and shrubs safely and smile spread across my face.  I wish I had that kind of daring and tenacity.

Sometimes, in the morning when I am driving to the high school, I scan through the radio stations.  Inevitably, the dial lands on Bible Thumper radio, which features men who sound impossibly old, who gasp out sermons of fire and brimstone, demanding that we all repent.  I like to leave the station on for a minute or two because I like the eeriness that fills the front of my car.  The streets are usually deserted, my dying, dim headlights lighting on nothing but pavement and painted white lines.  The change that lies discarded in one of two cup holders and clangs irritatingly around in the space as I drive is the only other sound.  It is not comforting; it is unsettling, but I enjoy it all the time.  I suppose that makes me weird.

More and more, I am realizing that the more things change, the more they truly do stay the same.  My belief – or faith? – in a common human thread is affirmed on a daily basis.  Human beings may age physically; hair may grey, joints may weaken, and lines may form, but emotionally, they can be as childish and as whimsical and romantic at seventeen as they can be at ninety-seven.  That knowledge, that possibility, gives me hope and makes me smile time and time again.

Lately, I am becoming more and more obsessed with romance.   I worry that this could be dangerous; dangerous to myself, to those around me, and to my writing endeavors.  To make this obsession more of a contagious disease, enjoy the following passages from Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.  Also, please note that I have booked a hotel room for Salem, Massachusetts.  At least I make good on some promises.

 

“’Because,’ he said, ‘I sometimes have a queer feeling with regard to you—especially when you are near to me, as now: it is as if I had a string somewhere under my left ribs, tightly and inextricably knotted to a similar string situated in the corresponding quarter of your little frame.  And if that boisterous Channel, and two hundred miles or so of land, come broad between us, I am afraid that cord of communion will be snapped; and then I’ve a nervous notion I should take to bleeding inwardly.  As for you—you’d forget me.’”

 

“’I tell you I must go!’ I retorted, roused to something like passion.  ‘Do you think I can stay to become nothing to you?  Do you think I am an automaton?—a machine without feelings? and can bear to have my morsel of bread snatched from my lips, and my drop of living water dashed from my cup?  Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless?  You think wrong!—I have as much soul as you—and full as much heart!  And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you.  I am not talking to you now through the medium of custom, conventionalities, nor even of mortal flesh: it is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God’s feet, equal—as we are!”

On Sleepy Hollow.

Published October 7, 2012 by mandileighbean

This weekend was enjoyable, productive, and – most of all – much needed.  Yesterday, I ventured to Sleepy Hollow with my good friends Dom and Raina, and Raina’s parents, and Raina’s parents friends.  I met everyone at Raina’s house, which was an adventure in and of itself.  I was pulled over on the parkway by a State Trooper for speeding, but he was understanding, and patient, and because my driving record is close to impeccable, he cut me a huge break.  Still, the experience was somewhat nerve-rattling because I had never been pulled over before and I was anxious just to get to Raina’s house and out from behind the wheel.  The issuing of the ticket made me late, as did generally leaving my house later than I would have liked, but I did arrive.  Dom showed up after I did, so my lateness was forgiven, and then the seven of us piled into two cars and hit the road.

The scenery was absolutely beautiful.  The leaves were all different shades of flaming red, burning orange, and resilient green and the mountains and hills we passed were covered in trees and seemed to go on for miles.  Dom frequently mentioned that it had been quite some time since he had smelled grass and he swore the sky was different in that part of the country.  We rode over bridges that provided safe travel over beautiful, dark water.  Dom, Raina and I caught up, shared snacks and were anticipating spending the evening in a historically creepy geographical location such as Sleepy Hollow, New York. 

The town caught us all by surprise.  We thought it would be … well, sleepier.  It was a “blue collar” town that was diverse in population as far as wealth and ethnicity.  We parked at Phillipsburg Manor, but traveled into the heart of Sleepy Hollow for dinner.  The meal was good and we survived the perilous task of parallel parking, and the gift shop had several interesting items for purchase.  I bought two books (The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving and The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter) and a witch hat with a celestial theme.  I enjoyed hot chocolate and freshly baked chocolate chip cookies.  I also thoroughly enjoyed the company and the scenery.  The walking path from the parking lots to the manor was lit by candles encased in glass lanterns.  It would have been romantic had we not been able to hear the blood-curdling screams of tourists venturing through “Horseman’s Hollow,” the very attraction we had purchased tickets for.

Dom has a talent for conversation; he is one of the most eloquent people I have ever had the distinct, intellectual pleasure of meeting.  When we were waiting for our turn to line up for the haunted walk, he engaged one of the security guards in conversation and we learned interesting tidbits about the history of the town, the attractions, and the origin of the commercialism surrounding Sleepy Hollow and its legend penned by Irving.  He mentioned Irving’s estate, named Sunnyside, and I made a mental note to visit it as soon as possible.  I also hope to make it to the cemetery, which is purported to be an entertaining, interesting tourist trap.  Dom also engaged the young man checking tickets at the entrance and he was a writer, working on a fantasy/adventure piece for about six years – since he was in high school.  For the first time in a few months, I introduced myself as a writer instead of as a teacher and it felt right.  I felt fulfilled and – for lack of a better term – cool.

The walk itself was definitely creepy and I did scream through most of it and maintain a quickened pace.  The costumed and makeup were remarkable, nearly everything seemed authentic, and we laughed as much as we shrieked.  Our biggest disappointment was that there was not more to do; we had hoped the town would fully and enthusiastically embrace its place in spooky folklore but as it turns out, this is only the third year they had done something to recognize Sleepy Hollow and its legend on a grand scale.  In particular, Dom had wanted to be immersed in history and after talking about that, we decided to make a try for Salem, Massachusetts.  The festivities there do have a historical authenticity and the three of us have yet to travel there and have yet to hear someone speak ill of Salem around Halloween (except for some strangers behind us on line, who claimed Sleepy Hollow was more entertaining than Salem, and that surprised us).

I really hope Salem works out, but I do not want to miss my cousin Cory’s visit.  One day last week, he quit his job because his boss was unkind.  He walked right off the job and embarked on one hell of a road trip.  He has kept me updated through messages, pictures, and Facebook statuses, and I am incredibly jealous.  I would love to be able to just leave, to shirk all responsibility and do exactly what I want.  I would love to get behind the wheel and see the country.  Cory explained that he only has one life and he will not waste it, will not let days go by without having seen and experienced “cool shit.”  I could not agree with him more.  I am so glad I went to Sleepy Hollow.

It was not just for the Halloween fun and atmosphere; it was to travel with friends.  Dom, Raina and I ended up at the Bridge View Tavern at the end of Beekman Avenue.  While the restaurant was all out of appetizers, the view of the Hudson River and the Tappan Zee Bridge was breathtaking.  The beer and wine were cold and tasty and the fries hit the spot.  We talked of people we know, some we still know and others we wish we could forget.  We were appreciative of the gorgeous night and the seasonal radiance particular to fall in October.

If I am to be perfectly honest, the ride home was my favorite part of the night.  Raina drove and to help keep her awake, Dom and I took turns reading from The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter.  The short stories were disturbing and entrancing, but I think the coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts takes the most credit for keeping us up.  Although, when we returned to Raina’s house, we all stayed up to hear the end of the longer story and I cannot even begin to express what that meant and still means to me.  Picture it; three twenty-somethings lounged on couches, attentively listening to a story being read aloud.  The television was not on.  We were not wearing ear buds to hear iPods.  There was an occasional perusal of the iPhone, but for the most part, we were totally engaged by the written word.  That is how I want every night to end.

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