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On fountains.

Published July 7, 2016 by mandileighbean

It’s sweltering in my house. I was dripping sweat earlier. I went outside earlier, to try and benefit from the meager breeze coming from the bay, and my outdoor furniture was wet from a storm that had passed by earlier but I didn’t even care. That’s how hot it is.

I’m not telling you this for sympathy. I think I’m building character.

My life is quiet and small and plain. Again, I’m not telling you this for sympathy or vague reassurance that my life is not the way I perceive it (that just makes someone feel crazy, doesn’t it?). I’m telling you this to illuminate my character, because this realization makes me restless. I always feel like I’m wasting my time and my youth, that I should be doing more, more, more. So I’m taking baby steps to do just that.

On Wednesday, I went to Princeton with one of my best friends. We strolled the campus like we belonged there, despite me being clad in clothes purchased from Old Navy and not J. Crew or Ann Taylor or anywhere else equally as impressive and expensive. Not only that, but an intrusive coffee stain that was too large to be ignored assaulted the lower-half of my shirt in a way that simply screamed I didn’t belong, that I was totally and completely faking it. But I didn’t let my general sloppiness ruin the trip – I’m not that dramatic.

I dragged my patient and impossibly too kind friend to the university to peruse the F. Scott Fitzgerald archives. I anticipated manuscripts and pictures kept under class in a far and quiet corner of the library. I assumed the public had free and easy access to the most personal belongings of a literary genius, but I was so wrong. We had to register, received photo identification cards to enter a restricted part of the library, wash our hands, lock away our belongings, and specifically select which aspects of Fitzgerald’s life we wanted to access. We did this without complaint (which is saying something considering the heat of the day was blistering and my dear, dear friend never intended to spend 150 minutes looking at the personal affects of some dead author), and were shown into a reading room. There, I made plans to visit Great Neck, Long Island for a long weekend (the setting that inspired The Great Gatsby) and to travel to Hackensack, New Jersey (specifically to see the Newman School, which Fitzgerald attended). My friend and I both flipped through a sort of combined scrapbook of Scott and Zelda, compiled by Matthew J. Bruccoli (the only Fitzgerald biographer that matters) and Scottie, Scott and Zelda’s daughter.

Scott’s drama teacher wrote, “Good God, save the soul of the man with the spark!” in reference to Fitzgerald. What a tragedy; what a shame.

We were presented with a facsimile of the manuscript of The Great Gatsby, complete with edits and revisions in Fitzgerald’s own handwriting, not to mention the entire manuscript was handwritten. I nearly cried.

We read letters from Zelda to Scott, which chronicled the beginnings of their relationship, as well as the more tumultuous aspects of the courtship and marriage. I compiled a list of Zelda’s best quotes.

  • … it’s so easy, and believing is much more intelligent
  • And still I’m so mighty happy — It’s just sort of a “thankful” feeling — that I’m alive and that people are glad I am
  • There’s nothing to say — you know everything about me, and that’s mostly what I think about. I seem always curiously interested in myself, and it’s so much fun to stand off and look at me …
  • … something always makes things the way they ought to be …
  • I love you sad tenderness — when I’ve hurt you — That’s one of the reasons I could never be sorry for our quarrels — and they bothered you so — Those dear, dear little fusses, when I always tried so hard to make you kiss and forget
  • … It seems as if there’s no new wisdom — and surely people haven’t stopped thinking — I guess morality has relinquished its claim on the intellect — and the thinkers think dollars and wars and politics — I don’t know whether it’s evolution or degeneration
  • To be afraid, a person has either to be a coward or very great and big
  • … free to sit in the sun and choose the things I like about people and not have to take the whole person
  • It is odd that the heart is one of the organs that does repair itself

I loved the eccentric, charming and dangerous and alarming details I learned about their love, like how Zelda consulted a Ouija board, and how she blamed Scott for her mental illness but firmly believed he could cure her.

We read Scott’s letters with a painstaking clarity, as we knew of the end he didn’t see coming. It was heartbreaking, really.

I decided the goal is to  write the last chapter of my next book in the Nassau Inn, to truly channel the passion and vibrancy and tragedy of F. Scott Fitzgerald.

I found some places I’d like to visit in France, places Fitzgerald went to and found some kind of inspiration, whether for writing or living large.

We wandered around campus for a while longer, sneaking into classrooms, disrupting tour groups, and feeling – even if for just a little while – that grand things were still possible for us.

We ventured into the cathedral on campus and a Starbucks and a book store to beat the heat.

We traveled to Asbury Park for some live music and great company. It was a great day, the kind summers are made of. I intend to have more like them.

I was inspired to write the following short story. Enjoy!

FOUNTAINS
by Mandi Bean

Carlos knew that the equator separated the globe into northern and southern hemispheres, and Carlos also knew that the farther south a person traveled, the hotter the weather became. However, Carlos could testify to the fact, and possibly even prove, that the farther west a person traveled, the same phenomenon occurred. He had lived on the eastern shore of New Jersey his entire life and could say without hesitation, could say with near absolute certainty, that the middle of the state was a burning, boiling wasteland in July – the most uncomfortable Summer month to begin with – and that it served no real purpose. Carlos had traveled west at the request of his fashionable, trendy girlfriend and now regretted it something fierce.

They were traipsing about the campus of Princeton University so that his girlfriend could admire the rich history and breathtaking architecture and blah, blah, blah. It was ninety-three degrees and Carlos was miserable. He felt damp and disgusting in places he didn’t even know could sweat. Still, he took it all in stride, trying to keep his girlfriend happy and blissfully unaware of his discomfort. He said nothing as they walked innumerable staircases to gawk at old buildings and open fields that meant something to someone somewhere, sure, but that person was not Carlos. His mood dangled precariously between “thoughtfully quiet” and “crankily homicidal,” and he offered his girlfriend only interested smiles as she prattled on and on about tradition and excellence and whatever.

Carlos only perked up as they neared the center of the sprawling campus. There was a pool, six inches deep at the most, with a fountain at its center, an impressive, enigmatic modern sort of structure spouting water. Carlos took his girlfriend’s hand and rushed towards it, the way someone might rush towards a miraculous pool while stranded in a desert. But this pool and fountain was no mirage; children splashed here and there, supervised by patient adults who smiled and nodded with a calculated, weary sort of encouragement. Carlos reached the pool’s edge, where wide, flat stone steps led down to the water. He was smiling wide, with a youthful exuberance, and he turned to his girlfriend. “I’m going in,” he stated and sat down to remove his shoes and socks.

His girlfriend offered a sweet smile, totally enchanted by Carlos’ juvenile need to cool and comfortable, by his childish ambitions. He was a beautiful young man with dark features that made him appear to be super intellectual, but in reality, he was nothing of the sort. But his girlfriend, equally as beautiful, was not disturbed by Carlos’ lack of desire for education and all things brainy. It kept her in check, kept a balance in the relationship. “Go right ahead,” she smiled. “I’ll wait here.”

Carlos paused and looked up at her. “You’re not coming in? This heat is brutal.”

She shook her head and seated herself beside Carlos. “It’s hot, but I’m okay. You go in, though. I can’t tell you’re dying to.” She leaned against him for a moment to kiss his cheek. That was all the permission Carlos needed, and he took off, splashing with reckless abandon to reach the fountain at the center. That spewing, falling water was the most efficient way to get cool. He passed the laughing, shrieking children and paused at the base of the fountain. The water fell on him in the most refreshing way and he was content to simply exist, it simply be in a world where water was free to fall where it may. What a time to be alive, what with fountains and pools to keep the intense summer heat at bay. He closed his eyes and attempted to wash away the sweat and sourness of the July sun.

After a few moments, he opened his eyes and leveled his gaze. He was surprised to find another adult, another wanderer about campus, engaging in the same activity. She was gorgeous, and Carlos also noted the way the woman had been equally as daring, had strode in the same way Carlos had, not caring for the onlookers or any kind of judgments. There was only the oppressive heat, and the refreshing relief of the water, roaring down from the fountain and tinkling as it reached the pool surface. They both appreciated the opportunity, had seized it, and now stood breathless, together in their choices and ideology, but separate in their strangeness to the other.

Carlos breathed a simple “hey.”

The woman nodded, and kicked water up at Carlos. That was her greeting; that was it. Aside from the playful smile, she had offered nothing, not even her name. But Carlos was game. He returned the splash. In a matter of moments, Carlos and the woman were doing their best to drown each other. Their raucous laughter and innocent challenges drowned out that of the children and even the most dutiful of supervising parent stole a glance at the two grown adults making complete asses of themselves in the fountain on the campus of Princeton University.

But, as do all things in life, the splashing lost its appeal and became old and tired. Carlos looked back to his girlfriend and found her reading (there was always a book in her over sized bag). He waved goodbye to the gorgeous, wild and free woman he had spent the last ten minutes with. Without really thinking about it, Carlos returned to the studious, safe and responsible woman waiting for him out of the water. He supposed that was the way it was supposed to be, that for every soul willing to get lost at sea, there had to be another anxiously waiting on shore.

As he came nearer, dripping wet and breathless and smiling, Carlos’ girlfriend looked up and barked a laugh. “Am I glad you drove,” she teased, “because you would never ever get into my car like that.”

Carlos bent to swiftly kiss her before she could protest or squirm away.

fountains

 

On Hurricane Sandy and faulty internet connections.

Published November 4, 2012 by mandileighbean

Every time that I have tried to update this blog, I have been thwarted by an unreliable internet connection.  It is incredibly frustrating and I have been tempted to just give up and save the update for tomorrow, but I have already lost far too much time.  There are so many stories that I have neglected that need to be told.  There is no more time to waste.

Sometimes I think about purchasing a pack of cigarettes and lighting up a long, slender, cylindrical stick of tobacco encased in paper.  I would inhale smooth and deep, let the smoke and tar sufficiently coat my lungs, and then I would exhale all the anxiety, insecurity, stress, and worry – all the really ugly and cancerous toxins.  I have romanticized smoking as an inexplicably dangerous, freeing, and alluring activity.  I think there is something about both the blatant idiocy and sheer recklessness that is strangely appealing.  This notion is strange indeed, given the current socioeconomic climate which is exceptionally health-conscious, but I suppose I am strange.  That adjective used to embarrass me, but now I embrace it fully.  In fact, I think that it is wonderfully liberating.
“Where are you now?  Where are you now?  Do you ever think of me in the quiet?  In the crowd?”

 

It has been quite some time since I have posted a blog entry.  My negligence has not been a result of wanting for inspiration.  Rather, my blog has remained stagnant because of a base, weak aspect of human nature: simple laziness.  I am tired and lacking in motivation to do anything other than sit on my ever-growing ass, let alone create.  Monday through Friday I come home defeated because I am exhausted from work and having a hell of a time adjusting to the shortened schedule because there never seems to be a respite – the immersion in school and grading and paperwork is total and complete because “home” is forcibly transformed into a second office.  The high school instructional schedule runs from 7:00AM to 11:57AM, and then teachers are required to stay until 12:50PM, performing assorted and assigned duties.  We then are required to leave, unable to return to our classrooms and forced to contend with a swamped faculty room and crowded library.  I feel – and I know I am not alone – as if I am constantly moving from space to space without a moment to catch my breath and without a sense of validity or ownership.  It is incredibly draining and defeating.

And for me, when I come “home” in desperate search of sanctuary but am still laden with work and an endless list of obligations, I am still nomadic and without a space to call my own.  I have a bedroom, but it is increasingly cramped for a young woman.  It is literally the smallest room in the house but what is more heartbreaking for me is the lack of metaphorical space and of room to grow.  I am surrounded by reminders of my childhood and adolescence, and of all of the failings, regrets, and shortcomings.  I am faced with physical, tangible mementos and I have to contend with vague memories, cloudy reminisces.  I am engulfed in juvenile dramatics at work and at home, which makes it more difficult to progress and move forward.  I feel stuck and stunted, contrary to any and all reassurances that I am a nice person, doing the right things, and being responsible.  Many of these reassurances come from my parents but fall on deaf ears because the reassurances have an unpleasant ring of ingenuity to them.  If my parents really meant what they said and if they really felt proud, then it stands to reason that I would not have to fight for every single scrap of recognition and praise.  Instead, glowing admiration and heartfelt compliments would be showered upon me and rain down.  That is not the case; I beg and plead for acknowledgement and more often than not, I am sorely disappointed.

I abhor the fact that I constantly look outside of myself for approval and that I am so dependent on others for acceptance.

I am terrified that I demand too much attention from those around me.  I am terrified that my parents do give me enough praise but that it is not enough and will never be enough for me because I am selfish and awful, a bottomless pit of need that no one will ever be able to fill.  I am terrified that I am becoming an obnoxious martyr, that people are tired of me, and that really, I am nothing special or unique.

I had no intention of whining.  I promise that this impromptu pity party began with nobler intentions.  I wanted to write about my cousin Cory and how he is an inspiration.  I was going to captivate and enthrall my audience with humorous anecdotes from my trip to Salem, Massachusetts.  I was planning on most definitely announcing that my debut novel, Her Beautiful Monster, is available for purchase from the Martin Sisters Publishing website (http://www.martinsisterspublishing.com).  I had hoped to post an entry that was a close reading of a particularly spooky passage from Stephen King (or maybe just a love letter to Stephen King) in honor of Halloween, which is one of my favorite holidays.  On Halloween, I should have been watching horror movies and gorging myself on popcorn and candy, but Hurricane Sandy ruined Halloween, devastated the Jersey Shore, and has depressed many of the residents of the Garden State.

            I know that I am blessed and I am incredibly thankful that out greatest inconvenience was being without power for less than twenty-four hours.  My family members, those in Toms River, are worse off, but still have homes and their lives.  I am fully aware of how lucky we are and thank God that we are okay, and being able-bodied and possessing the means, that we can help others.  I know that I talk about getting out of Jersey.  I smile when comedians make fun of the way New Jersey smells – I even commiserate – and I smile when they make fun of the incapability of New Jersey’s citizens to pump gas.  I cringe when I think of the awful, putrid reality television shows filmed in New Jersey.  But New Jersey is my home and I am damn proud of that fact.  My heroes hail from Jersey.  I am damn proud of all those from Jersey, people who bond together through thick and thin, and are always mindful of the brotherhood of man and what that means in times like these.  Sure, I talk – and write – about getting out but Jersey is one hell of a place to come home to and I want that opportunity for me, my children, and my grandchildren.  Homes may be lost, towns may be destroyed, and businesses may be demolished, but all of that can be rebuilt.  Sandy may have knocked Jersey down, but it certainly has not and will not know Jersey out.  As a fellow Jersey native once said, “And that is why our fellow Americans in the other 49 states know when the announcer says, ‘And now in this corner, from New Jersey …’ they better keep their hands up and their heads down, because when that bell rings, we’re coming out swinging.”

           On November 1st, I planned to start anew and come out swinging.

 

I was supposed to start anew on November 1st, but there was an unforeseen complication: my dog, Bijou, was put down that day.  He was fourteen years old and the veterinarian suspected he was dying of kidney failure but without running some tests, he could not say for sure.  However, he could say with one hundred percent certainty that Bijou was dying and he more than subtly hinted that it was time to put him down.  I was okay, not sobbing, until the assistant placed a muzzle on him.  I understand it was a necessary precaution and there were legality issues to be considered, but the idea of Bijou biting anyone is laughable.  To see him so sick and obviously suffering and then muzzled like some dangerous monster was too much.  I started crying and then I could not stop.  He yelped when the painkiller was injected and I held him tighter when they brought us into the other room.  Dad and I sat with Bijou for some thirty minutes, petting him and saying goodbye and telling him he was a good boy and he was.  He did pee on Mom and he did poop in the middle of the kitchen table, but he was wicked smart and damn adorable.  I am really going to miss him.

           Dad whistled and Bijou tried to get up.  He tried to get up a couple of times and I wanted to just take him home.  I am really kind of pissed off that I was in the room when Bijou was euthanized because it was too damn sad.  It broke my silly heart to see his breath hitching and his eyes glossy and constantly slanted so that they were nearly shut.  I am furious that I saw Bijou so worn and so defeated.  It sucks, for lack of eloquence, to lose a pet.  I miss him.  I really do.

Mom cried – and she never cries.  She admits that it is weird without Bijou, but that is all it is for her – weird.  I want her to be right because I do not want to be so sad over a dog that was pain in the ass more often than not.  Every member of my family has hunted him down in the neighborhood when decided to let himself out for a walk.

But he was incredibly affectionate and very good with children.  He could do all sorts of tricks.

            I miss my dog.  I will start anew on Monday, when I do not feel so emotionally gross and when school reopens.  The return to some kind of normalcy will be good for me and for the state.

Tomorrow I am meeting a friend for a late lunch to discuss marketing possibilities for the book.  All of my dreams can be realized if this book does well; it is all I want.

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