Creative Writing

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On playing tiny violins.

Published January 17, 2020 by mandileighbean

New year, new me.

That’s what everyone says. Now me, I’m not quiet as ambitious, but I am pleased (more than pleased, actually) to share that I am making good progress with one resolution: to write every day. What I have to share with you for this blog post isn’t another self-pity party or a list of attributes I wish I possess or anything like that. It’s … a short story!

Without further ado, I present for your reading pleasure: “BARBARA AND HER VIOLIN.”

Wooden violin on a sheet music.

Barbara sighed deeply. She was seated on a low, plush stool on a similarly plush rug in the center of her small, sparse living room. Her violin case was resting quietly beside her. Its golden clasps shone magnificently against the hard, matte black covering. It was beautiful to behold, had been a birthday gift from the first and last man she had ever loved, but at the current moment, it was not beautiful enough to hold her attention. Instead, Barbara was focused on her hands.

Her worst fears had been confirmed earlier that morning during a routine visit to her doctor. Barbara hadn’t told him about the pain in the mornings and she kept quiet about the way her finger and wrist joints would scream after a few hours of playing. Her mother had taught her that ignoring a problem made it go away, so Barbara never spoke about what was going on with her hands. And she made no mental notes whatsoever about how often she rubbed them to soothe the throbbing aches in her fingers and wrists. No one had to know because nothing was happening. Nothing to see here, folks. Just move it along, Barbara thought with a rueful smile.

But then Dr. Gabbison handed her a clipboard with some routine paperwork to sign. “Oh, Barbara,” he moaned. “Why didn’t you tell me about your hands?”

Barbara looked up with wide eyes. She had been struggling to grip the pen, wincing as she struggled to curl her fingers. She couldn’t bear the pity in the doctor’s eyes, so she averted her gaze to the appendages in question, the very things she was trying so hard to ignore. There were bony knobs on all of her fingers, and the skin around each was red and inflamed. They were awful and hideous to behold. Their ugliness viciously betrayed their former grace and dignity. Those hands could make wonderful music and remind people that humans were capable of more than just eating and shitting and dying. Now, they were discolored and gnarled and she hated them. When she looked back to Dr. Gabbison, she thought she might cry.

She left his office an hour later. Barbara left with a prescription for some super strength pain reliever and an impending sense of doom. Dr. Gabbison scheduled Barbara for another appointment in a week and tried to be optimistic, but he mentioned steroid injections and splints and even surgery, all of which scared Barbara half to death. All of that meant getting better was not an option. Dr. Gabbison talked about life0changing measures, alterations to her beloved and comfortable daily routine. Dr. Gabbison talked about not playing the violin anymore. She could never – and would never – understand how anyone could demand that someone else stop creating, stop making beautiful things for this grotesque world and its morally disfigured inhabitants. Barbara did not know how she would cope with the daily disappointments without the violin. She didn’t know how to keep from crying herself to sleep when the other side of the bed had been so cold for so long without the violin. Barbara didn’t know what she was going to do.

Daunted by the enormity of the tragedy she was facing, Barbara simply sat on her low, plush stool situated in the center of the plush carpet in the middle of her nearly empty living room. The blinds were drawn. The air was stale. Dust mites apathetically floated in the narrow streams of light that slipped in. Barbara sat with her hands curled about themselves in her lap. They seemed like they were not part of her, like she holding a weak and dying thing that she would be happy to see go as it meant the suffering was over, but mostly because she was disgusted by its continued existence. The hands she had cared for and admired for so long were useless to her now, and so she despised them. And the worst of it was that they were still part of her, and she couldn’t just ignore them until they were better. She couldn’t act like it was all okay because the hands riddled with arthritis had betrayed her and sat now as useless stumps, daily reminders of what she once had been and could never be again. As if growing older wasn’t enough of a travesty. She’d have to continue on alone, without the only companion she had known for nearly two decades. The music was gone, red and inflamed and silent, and now Barbara had nothing to help her temporarily forget that all there was left to do now was die.

She wondered if she should make herself a drink.

Barbara slowly got to her feet, thinking now that every single joint in her body was seizing up on her. She grabbed her lower back with a grimace and shuffled slowly, hunched over, into her small but tidy kitchen. It was a good thing she didn’t pass a single mirror on the way. She was moving like a woman twenty years older. It would have depressed the hell out of Barbara to see herself so frail, so weak, so near the end.

Barbara opened up the cabinet with glass inserts to find just the right glass to toast her final defeat with. What it was filled with would be inconsequential; anything with alcohol would suffice. Her eyes scanned the shelves to the bottom of the cabinet, and there they widened and filled with tears. Her breath caught in her throat.

Barbara was looking at two glass tumblers with a date from long ago etched elegantly around their middles. Henry had surprised her with them on the last night of their second honeymoon, a trip booked once Henry’s cancer proved indestructible against radiation and surgery and prayers and pleas and oils and creams and everything else, dear Lord, they had tried everything and nothing had worked. Barbara had broken down immediately, burying her face in her hands and letting the sobs wrack her body, sending shudders from her shoulders to her guts. Henry took the news with the same quiet dignity he always had. He shook the doctor’s hand, thanked him for his efforts. He helped Barbara to her feet, kissed the top of her head, and practically carried her to the car. He drove them home (for Christ’s sake, Barbara thought, I wasn’t even able to drive him home) and locked himself in the guestroom for two days.

When Henry emerged, he acted like nothing had happened. He kissed Barbara hard enough to make her knees tremble, made them a huge breakfast, and talked excitedly about what he was calling “his farewell tour.” He wanted to taste the air of great cities he’d never been to. He wanted to make love to Barbara in distant lands and wake up beside her with different sunlight on their faces. He wanted to live the way people are meant to; fearlessly and joyfully. He wanted what little time he had left to be so fucking good (the only time Barbara had ever heard him use such language) that he’d miss being alive.

They sat side by side and planned the whole thing – reservations and itineraries and accommodations galore – on Barbara’s laptop.

They ended the trip in Paris, Barbara’s absolute favorite city. Henry’s condition was rapidly deteriorating. He was always tired and though he put on a brace face, Barbara could tell he was relieved when she cancelled the remaining sightseeing tours. They stayed in the hotel room, making love and gorging themselves on French cuisine via room service. Barbara would play the violin at night. Henry would smile, crying as he watched her play. He told her he loved her over and over again. He told her he would miss her over and over again. Barbara didn’t trust herself to speak, so she only held him and kissed him and loved him the best she could.

The last night, Barbara awoke alone in the extravagant bed. They had made love and afterwards, she had fallen asleep, wrapped in Henry’s arms. When she woken and discovered he had left, she began to panic. He was too weak to go anywhere without assistance and he couldn’t speak a word of French. Barbara threw the covers off and frantically began getting dressed, wondering where he could have gone and debating calling the authorities. She had one leg in her pants when the door opened.

“Henry!” Barbara cried. She ran to him, half-dressed, and threw her arms around him. “I was so worried! You didn’t leave a note or anything an your cell phone was on the nightstand, so I didn’t know what happened to you!”

Henry stopped Barbara’s mouth with his, holding her almost as tightly as she was holding him, with a strength he hadn’t had in months. He backed her up to the bed. “Don’t bother getting dressed,” he said, winking.

Barbara fell back onto the bed and got a good look at Henry. He looked good, looked like he had when the trip started. She also noticed he was holding a brown paper shopping bag. Henry noted Barbara’s quizzical expression and set the bag on the bed. From it, he pulled an expensive looking bottle and two equally expensive looking tumblers. He handed the glasses to Barbara. “Look at the inscription,” he said. Barbara did as she was told. It said: BARBARA AND HENRY, AN EVERLASTING LOVE THAT BEGAN 02/18/1973.

Barbara blinked back tears. “Henry,” she said. She let his name hang on her lips and hang in the air because it was so sweet and so precious, and she wanted to savor it.

Henry held Barbara’s face in his hands. “I love you, Barbara. I love you more than I have ever loved anyone. You are the only thing about this life I’ll miss.” He paused to take a deep, shuddering breath. “So when I’m gone, you need to keep going. Do you understand me?”

Barbara shook her head, tears steadily pouring down her cheeks. “I can’t have this conversation with you, Henry.” Barbara thought that ignoring a problem really did make it go away, that acknowledging the problem was that start of all the trouble, so she shut her eyes and tried to be somewhere else.

Henry released her face and grabbed Barbara by her shoulders, shaking her. “Don’t do that. Don’t refuse anything life gives you. This is hard and this seems terribly unfair, but this is it, Babs. This is the hand we’ve been dealt so we’ve gotta play it.” He kissed her lips. “I know you don’t think you’re strong. I know you believe yourself incapable of facing any kind of adversity. And I know a lot of that is my fault because I’ve never let you. I’ve always fixed whatever was broken and I’ve always handled whatever needed to be handled, and I’ve always spared you the gory details. Barbara, honey, that was a mistake. I’m worried I might have set you up for failure.”

Barbara emphatically shook her head “no.” “Henry, you never ever did anything wrong. I -”

Henry interrupted her. “Barbara, stop. Listen to me, okay? Don’t argue or anything, just listen to me. Life is going to happen to you after I’m gone and you’re going to have to keep living no matter what. If that means finding love with someone else, or if that means moving somewhere else, whatever that means, I need you to do it.”

Barbara threw her arms around Henry again. She was sobbing, smearing snot and mascara all over his shoulder. “I love you, Henry. I don’t want to do this without you.”

“You have to,” Henry said. His voice was thick and he swallowed all that emotion down before speaking again. “You have to and you will. You’ll be an old, beautiful woman with long, gray hair, captivating men and women of all ages and types with that violin of yours. The sky will be the limit without me holding you back,” he said. He laughed softly and kissed her again. “Promise me you’ll never stop.”

Barbara looked Henry in the eye. The only man she had ever loved, the man who would be dead and buried in less than a month. Henry had saved her from countless dangers, both real and imagined, both big and small. He’d always kissed it and made it better. He was her lover and cheerleader, her biggest fan. There was absolutely no conceivable way Barbara could go on without him. It wasn’t a promise she could make as it certainly wasn’t a promise she could keep. But Barbara also couldn’t deny a dying man his last wish. So she kissed him like she’d never be able to kiss him again, like this really was the very last goodbye, and then she said, “I promise.”

Henry kissed her open mouth. “I’ll drink to that,” he said, smiling though there were tears gathering in his dark eyes. He filled both glasses with the bourbon he liked, and they toasted to Barbara’s promise.

Now, over ten years later, Barbara stood in her small but neat kitchen, holding one of the glasses from that tragically perfect evening in a Paris hotel room with a gnarled, grotesque hand. Next to Henry, the violin was her only source of companionship. To lost it would be like losing Henry all over again, would be a fate worse than death. That violin had brought her to Henry. After she had played with a small orchestra at the local community college, Henry had been waiting for her outside. He told her that he just had to tell her she was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen or heard. He said it would be his life’s biggest regret if he didn’t ask her out. And so their courtship had begun.

Henry was at every single performance, even when his failing health didn’t really allow it.

At their wedding, Barbara played an original composition she had written for Henry.

When they had their first bad fight, Barbara played her violin until Henry finally started talking to her again. This same tactic was successfully employed time and time again over the years, as the music was a cue for Henry to come and have a conversation or, at the very least, to tell her to knock it off because he wasn’t angry anymore and just wanted some quiet. Barbara didn’t think she could abandon those memories or do such a disservice to the instrument that had helped her keep the promise she made to her dying husband.

Slowly, painfully, Barbara filled the glass with the bourbon Henry had loved. She drank it down quickly and then returned to the living room. Slowly, painfully, she removed the beautiful instrument from its elegant case, and she began to play.

In a couple of hours, she didn’t even feel the pain.

the-sad-violin

On battling back against disappointment.

Published January 8, 2020 by mandileighbean

disappointment1

Please forgive my prolonged absence. As soon as I left work on December 20th, I headed to Florida to spend the holidays with my family. But now I’m back, baby! And I’m fully embracing the second coming of the Roaring 20s!

Well, sort of.

In case the title of this blog post wasn’t enough of an indication, things aren’t going as well as I had hoped. I should be used to this. I mean, when does life ever really go as planned? It still sucks to be disappointed, though. Next to loneliness, I think disappointment is my least favorite emotion.

I’m disappointed because it looks like I’m going to have to postpone my Ireland plans for a year. My FAFSA was denied because I defaulted on a loan I mistakenly thought was a grant. I’m an idiot, I know. And my credit’s not quite good enough for a loan (personal, student, or otherwise). I’m terribly ashamed to admit this because I feel like a failure and I worry people will think I’m a loser. And then I REALLY start to spiral and convince myself I am a loser and that I was never good enough to be a writer anyway and now the universe is just confirming it.

But that’s not true. And that’s flawed thinking. It’s unhelpful, negative thinking. None of that is conducive to battling back against disappointment.

It’s crucial to be both positive and reasonable when dealing with disappointment. I applied to the University of Limerick on a whim, with no solid plans for what I’d do if I was accepted. I already shared my concerns about living abroad for a year in an earlier post, but the more I consider those concerns, the more I realize how foolish I was in thinking I could prepare to live in another country for a year in less than a year. Finances aside, my house is nowhere near ready to be rented out (at least not at the price I’d be asking). My heat needs to be fixed and my appliances need updating. I need to clean out my basement to maximize space.

And what about my car? My cat? It’s overwhelming to fully think studying abroad through, but that’s what must be done to do it right. I’d rather do something right than just do something spontaneously. I also firmly believe everything happens for a reason, so let me slow down and take a breath and plan.

Deferring my place has its disadvantages. I worry I say “I’ll go next year,” but then never go. I wonder if I can survive another year of the same old, same old. What if my writing suffers because I’m stuck in a rut, only tired and uninspired, making only obvious and safe choices? I know this is mostly psychological and partially the result of being rejected by A N O T H E R agent and losing A N O T H E R writing contest.

But I have to remember to stay positive. Maybe this year, I can really focus on building a writing resume and a productive writing routine.

And I’d still be me in Ireland. A change of scenery doesn’t guarantee anything. I need to be happy and comfortable before I go somewhere as far as Ireland or I’m just running away. Or worse, only delaying dealing with my insecurities as a writer (and honestly, as a woman).

And it’s critical to stay positive. I have to consider the possibility that deferring my place is a blessing in disguise.

Because everything happens for a reason.

disappointment2

On adventures, especially the small ones.

Published July 3, 2019 by mandileighbean

ulfrankmccourt

I didn’t write a single entry for the month of June. I had drafts, but I never published a single entry. June was a rough, tough month for me; the end of the school year is always a hectic time, and there were financial and personal woes that kept me distracted, but the adventure – albeit a small one – I was psyching myself up for at the end of the month was a real blessing and a real game changer. Essentially, I’m saying that I’m glad I held off so I could post a love letter to The University of Limerick/Frank McCourt Creative Writing Summer School. It’s been about a year since I left a writing conference brimming with such admiration and inspiration and affection, and I’m excited to tell you all about it.

I attended the conference with a colleague who was my former English teacher and is now a very good friend. We headed into New York City during the later hours of Thursday morning. We checked into our hotel and spruced ourselves up before heading to an exclusive, invitation only reception at the Irish Consulate. I can’t remember feeling as privileged and elegant as I did that night. On the seventeenth floor of an intimidating building on Park Avenue, we were treated to passed hors d’oeuvres and wine and the wonderful joviality that seems to be exclusive to the Irish. Ellen and Malachy McCourt were present, relations of the Irish writer Frank McCourt, in whose honor the Summer School was started. Frank McCourt and his book Angela’s Ashes hold very special places in my heart because his book was the very first, and perhaps the only book, I remember my entire family reading. I’m talking my grandparents, my parents, my siblings, my aunts, and my uncles, and maybe even some cousins. Discussing that book with my extended family is one of my most cherished literary and familial memories, so to be in that elegant room with windows overlooking Park Avenue and rubbing elbows with the Irish literary scene was surreal.

The school really kicked off on Friday afternoon, where all attending gathered at the Glucksman Ireland House for registration and orientation. We were split up into three seminar groups (A, B, and C) and each group took each Core Workshop. My colleague and I had the good fortune of being in the same group, group C. But before we split up, we all remained in the main lecture room for an introduction that outlined the aims of the weekend, and for a lecture by Professor Sarah Moore Fitzgerald that included writing exercises and covered self-motivation, plot, structure, and story.

sarah-moore-fitzgerald-407653063 Professor Sarah Moore Fitzgerald was an incredibly warm, energetic and passionate woman. She was an absolute joy to learn from. She told us all that “There really is no expertise … everyone comes to the blank page” and that blank page is a “real leveler.” The inclusive atmosphere she created was crucial to establishing the camaraderie that gradually built over the weekend between the attendees and the faculty. Her knowledge and encouragement will stay with me for a long time. Her author profile is here, on her publisher’s website.

After Professor Sarah Moore Fitzgerald’s lecture, my group and I traveled down a short, creaky staircase for our first Core Workshop: All We Shall Know: Short Stories to Novels, led by Professor Donal Ryan.

donalryan Professor Donal Ryan was just … cool. He put us all at ease with his humor but simultaneously managed to keep us all on our toes with his wit and insight into the creative process. He was honest and open and completely generous. He really drove home the point that the best kind of stories are character driven and beautiful in their simplicity, meaning just tell the story you want to tell. He played songs that captured this idea and pointed out how they did it in just a couple of verses and a chorus. He said, “Infinity is there for us as writers” because anyone can write about absolutely anything, and that can be overwhelming. So the key is to keep it simple: read and write to hone your craft, and to be almost mathematical about plot, pacing, and structure to sort of rein yourself in and not succumb to “the oppression of infinity.” Professor Donal Ryan’s author profile can be found here, on his publisher’s website. And this is a link to a wonderful article about Donal Ryan, which really captures the spirit of his approach to writing.

I was on cloud nine leaving the building after the first day, and things were only made better by having a delicious dinner at “Eataly.” The writer’s life is definitely the life for me, and I am forever indebted to my colleague for bringing this experience to my attention. I feel like a different person, and I feel like a better writer.

Saturday was a full day: we started earlier and ended later. We began again as a large group with Professor Sarah Moore Fitzgerald discussing plot, the importance of conflict in the plot, and she shared intimate details of her process as a writer of books for young adults. Again, she was passionate and vibrant and full of knowledge. I filled pages and pages of my notebook with notes; amazing.

After the main lecture, my group shuffled over to the second Core Workshop in the seminar room just inside the front door of the house. The workshop was titled Poetry in the House of Prose, and it was led by Dr. Martin Dyar.

M-Dyar-by-Fran-Marshall-1-960x675 Learning from Dr. Martin Dyar was an incredible experience, so much so that I find it difficult to put into words the transformative magic that occurred within the room as he spoke. Before the workshop, we were to read “The Swimmer” by John Cheever and a collection of poems curated by Dr. Dyar. He explored the connection between narrative writing and poetry with examples, and spoke so eloquently about the importance of both and how using them in tandem makes the beauty of the written word and of abstract thought more accessible to the reader. Like Professor Dolan Ryan, he talked about compression and how with writing, and especially with poetry, less is often more. I annotated all over the poem we focused on and was inspired not only as a writer, but as a teacher. His workshop was so important on so many different levels, and it’s always wonderful to talk with brilliant people, and he is absolutely brilliant. Dr. Martin Dyar’s profile and brief biography are featured on the Poetry Foundation’s website.

We broke for a quick lunch. I had ice cream. What an amazing, incredible day! And I was only halfway through it.

After lunch, my group had our final Core Workshop with Dr. Kerry Neville, titled Writing Memoir and Longer Fiction.

kerryneville Dr. Kerry Neville was beautiful and honest and brave and vulnerable, and just an artist in full. She had us write a story about ourselves to introduce ourselves and really demonstrated the magic in a good story and what it can do to create an understanding and a sense of community between people, specifically between an author and her readers. She really emphasized the point that no matter what you write, it’s your job to get it right, to give the story the dignity it deserves. Dr. Kerry Neville also had us bring in important photographs and write a sentence or two about why there were so important to us. I had a picture of my maternal grandparents celebrating St. Patrick’s Day some years ago, and I wrote about the connection between them and Frank McCourt and sharing literary aspirations with my grandfather. I was honored and blessed to have the moment to give credit to Grandpa, who left us far too soon and was always so supportive. I like to think that he would be proud and we would have been incredibly close as I got older. And I owe Dr. Kerry Neville for sharing her knowledge and passion, and for allowing me a platform to do the same. She is a wonderful woman. Dr. Kerry Neville’s website is here.

We ended the day at the Swift Hibernian Lounge, where we were treated to an intimate concert with Pierce Turner.

Pierce-on-puck-fair-counter WOW. What a performance. What an experience. Pierce Turner’s lyrics were poignantly beautiful and incredibly intelligent. As I sat beside an Irish filmmaker, across from a woman who had studied at the University of Limerick for a year, and next to my colleague, I was perfectly in love with my life. It was amazing and wonderful, and I – again! – am struggling to find the right combinations of words to do the magic of the evening any sort of justice. It was actually as close to perfect as I think an evening can get. Pierce Turner’s official website is here. And this is my favorite song that he played that evening.

Sunday was our last day, and it was bittersweet. New York City always exhausts me and while I was excited to unwind at home, I knew I had been a part of something truly great and I would miss it dearly. I miss it right now.

Our last day started with an awesome lecture by Professor Eoin Devereux, called Waltzing Back: The Cranberries’ “Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?”

eoindevereux The lecture was awesome. Professor Eoin Devereux was passionate and knowledgeable, but managed to make everything so accessible. Professor Joseph O’Connor kept calling him a Renaissance Man, and it’s true; he was a treat to listen to and my only regret is that his lecture wasn’t longer. Professor Eoin Devereux’s impressive faculty page is here.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the importance of The Cranberries in my life. When I was a miserable teenager hell bent upon making my mother’s life more miserable than it needed to be, when her and I were at our worst, we could somehow manage to sit together and still share a love of music, particularly that of The Cranberries. My mother introduced me to Dolores O’Riordan’s haunting voice and stunning lyrics, and she played for me her favorite songs.  There’d been several signs from the universe indicating I was right where I was supposed to be, and Professor Eoin Devereux’s informative and entertaining lecture was definitely one of them.

The conference ended at McSorley’s Old Alehouse with a simple brunch. Each of the faculty members read a little something they had prepared and after some merriment muted by the knowledge it was the end, we parted ways. McSorley’s was the perfect establishment for the send off; rich in history and with stories of its own. One of my closest friends in college (whom I named one of my characters after in my novel) worked there for a long time, and her family still owns and operates it. I reached out to her and we reconnected briefly and everything just felt right.

It’d be a horrible, terrible mistake if I didn’t acknowledge Professor Joseph O’Connor, the man who led the way and endeavored to put the whole conference together.

profoconnor His humor and warmth and knowledge set the tone for the whole weekend. He was incredibly gracious and kind, and remarkably talented, and inspiring. Professor Joseph O’Connor’s author website is here.

He spoke about the possibility of studying at the University of Limerick, and encouraged us to reach out to him if we were interested. So I did.

I guess what this whole post has been leading up to is the revelation I came to: I want to study for a year in Ireland. I want to live and write there for a year. And I’ve begun planning to do so.

I’ll keep you updated, as always.

On interpretations and story lines.

Published May 9, 2019 by mandileighbean

The other night, I had a dream that I was in the shower and all my nail polish washed off in the water. I was pissed because in real life, I had just had a manicure and a pedicure and it totally stressed me out. When I woke up, I had forgotten the dream until I saw the red polish still on my fingernails as I reached for my phone (a terrible habit I need to break – summer objective #1!). I Googled “dream symbols nail polish” and as you can imagine, an overwhelming amount of information popped up. Some of the interpretations claimed to see nail polish in a dream meant the dreamer was focused on beauty and attention to detail. Other interpretations took it a step further and said that if the polish was a unique color (like blue or green or purple) then it showed the dreamer’s free spirit. But the interpretation I found that made sense to me was about how seeing nail polish in a dream meant the dreamer was dealing with rumors and “dirty words.” In my personal life, I’ve lost a close friend recently because this person told others that I hated them and said horrible things. I’ve been bitter and angry as a result, so the dream makes sense in that context.

But does that make the interpretation accurate? Does it have any merit, or am I just choosing what applies to me because I can only really look for what I am already seeing?

More recently, I had a dream where mice were running all over my feet and I was beside myself. I took to Google once again and was met with many different interpretations … again. But the website I settled on readily admitted that there are many unique interpretations for seeing mice in a dream, but that seeing mice in a dream was more often than not a bad sign. It mentioned mice representing feelings of inadequacy and of not being good enough, and the fear of being used, all of which are currently extremely relevant to me and what’s been going on in my personal life.

Are these really signs, or do people really only see what they look for?

I don’t know. Personally, I’m always looking for signs and I do believe there are miracles. But as I grow older, I find I have more and more trouble trusting myself. It is an incredibly frustrating sensation. And when it happens, I like to imagine I’m someone else to rectify the situation. I’ll ask myself, “What would Carrie Bradshaw do?” or “What would Harry Potter do?” or “What advice would Jane Eyre have?” I think of characters I admire and go from there. I don’t think that’s such a bad thing because maybe, just maybe, ink and pen and paper are stronger materials than blood and bone.

I bring up characters to ask about story lines. My prompt for this week is to: “Ask for fans’ favorite story lines and see if they have ideas or suggestions regarding what should happen next.” So for the next post, I’ll share more of my current project and ask for thoughts on what should happen next. But for this week, just tell me some of your favorite story lines. One of mine is from the SyFy network’s show “Haven” (based on The Colorado Kid by Stephen King … no surprise there, right?). The show was filled with “troubled” people, whose anxieties and fears and desires manifested into supernatural abilities. I thought it was a clever spin on the whole “sheriff in a small town” trope. And I fell in love with the character of Duke Crocker, played by Eric Balfour. (I should mention that I’ve always been attracted to men, both real and imagined, that have dark hair and dark eyes, and who are mostly assholes (from Michael Scott in “The Office” to Duke Crocker on “Haven,” and despite both shows being on Netflix, they couldn’t be any more different in plot and theme and genre. I hope that illustrates the depth of my issue)).

So let’s get talking! Please comment about your favorite story line from books and/or movies and/or television, and maybe it’ll be inspiring for all those aspiring writers out there (myself included!).

 

On misery.

Published January 30, 2018 by mandileighbean

I know I haven’t updated like I said I would, which is not really surprising.

At least I have excellent news to share.

I applied and was accepted to attend The Writer’s Hotel writing conference. It’s in Manhattan beginning in the first week of June. As part of attending the conference, my manuscript will be read twice and commented on. After talking with one of the editors for just fifteen minutes, I felt so validated and rejuvenated. This whole experience will help me better understand why my query is earning requests for my manuscript but my manuscript is being rejected.

In going back and reading my manuscript (which I foolishly neglected to do properly before sending it out), I realize my writing became impersonal. This is ironic considering the inspiration for the manuscript is incredibly personal. But I think I was too close to the story to accurately judge how I was telling it.

My parents are funding the conference, which is really and truly remarkable. Their generosity leaves me breathless. Honestly, I would be nowhere without them.

Next month, I find out where I stand regarding that contest I entered to try and turn my book HER BEAUTIFUL MONSTER into a movie. Wish me luck!

I’ve recently started attending therapy. I’ve only gone twice, but I think it might be helpful. I’m keeping and open mind and trying to stay positive.

I want to continuously make the conscious decision to be happy.

That being said, here’s a prompt about being miserable.

Stay gold, friends. And be excellent to each other. xoxo

 

WRITING PROMPT #02.2018: “Come with or stay at home. It’s your misery.”

Madison was not living her best life.

She was stretched out upon the old, lumpy couch that was covered in an itchy fabric that made her sweat. She was on her stomach with her head turned to the right so she could see the television.

Nothing interesting was on, just an endless stream of true crime documentaries that Madison had seen before.

Her mouth was hanging open stupidly. She couldn’t remember the last time she blinked, let alone moved. Madison was fairly confident she was resting on top of crumbs. She was mildly concerned she was even covered in crumbs, that she heard a faint crunch whenever she shifted to mold closer to the couch. couchpotatoAs a matter of fact, her mouth was shiny with grease from consuming an untold number of potato chips. She just kept crunching and chewing until the bag was empty. She flicked her eyes to the empty bag, which was resting on a stained and wobbly coffee table less than a foot away from her. The open end of the bag gaped at her like an open mouth, and she flicked her eyes to stare into the void.

She had never felt less motivated, had never felt so unattractive. Madison suspected that this was giving up.

Her roommate, Christine, came bounding down the stairs. Madison didn’t turn her head to see Christine, didn’t dare move to make eye contact. She had been festering on the couch for several days now, content to spoil like so much rotten meat. She could feel the best parts of her decomposing and believed she was powerless to stop it. Doing her best to be sympathetic, Christine had allowed Madison to eat food that was terrible for her, watch television that was mindless, stay in the same clothes, and just be disgusting. A heartbreak could be near impossible to bounce back from, and Madison’s foray into the disappointments of romance had been a doozy.

But enough was enough; there was a definite odor hanging about Madison now, something like pathetic despair. Madison couldn’t live like that and to be frank, Christine couldn’t live with someone who lived like that. If Christine were to move out, Madison would have absolutely no social interaction and would certainly decay at an accelerated rate. Madison probably envisioned herself as an Emily Dickinson type, a tragic albeit talented recluse, but Christine suspected the Unabomber was a better fit.

Christine walked over to where Madison was and kneeled before her friend, forcing her to make eye contact with a real human being and not some imagined individual on a screen. “Madison, get up. Get dressed. We’re going out.”

“I don’t want to,” Madison mumbled against the cushion she was doubling as a pillow.

“I don’t care. You can’t keep going on like this.”

Madison was silent.

“Do you think David is doing this? Just waiting around to die? No way. Come on now. Get up.”

Madison was unmoved.

Christine rolled her eyes. “Come with or stay at home. It’s your misery.”

Madison blinked stupidly and did not say anything.

Christine sighed and got to her feet. “I’m going to The Marvel Bar with some friends from work, and I am inviting you. I’m leaving in thirty minutes.” Christine did an about face to walk into the kitchen and make herself a pregame cocktail. She had only gone about four steps when Madison flopped over onto her back.

“Do you think David will be there?”

Anger boiled up from Christine’s stomach to color her face. She was about to spin around and scream at Madison so that spittle flew from the corners of her lips. How could David possibly matter? What Madison needed to focus on was herself, on getting happy, on being fit to be around other people. Christine wanted to shake Madison until Madison’s teeth clacked together, until Madison bit her tongue hard enough to make it bleed. There was no doubt that tough love was necessary, but Christine also realized that she had to get Madison out of the house. That in itself would be a victory.

So coolly, Christine turned around and said, “Probably.”

Madison bounded into the bathroom at an alarming speed, surprising for someone whose muscles must have been entering atrophy. Christine smiled and continued to the kitchen. She’d make two cocktails.

On summer bummer.

Published September 5, 2017 by mandileighbean

Good afternoon, all. It’s absolutely gorgeous in the Great Garden State; a little warmer than most would like for September, especially after a cool spell of a couple of days, but even though it’s a bummer, summer is winding down. I reported back to work on Friday, and was back in the building today. Truth be told, I’m excited to be back and I’m more than ready for fall. This summer has been a rough one for me, and even though I haven’t been updating regularly (it’s been over a month since the last time I posted), I’m back and ready to take my life back from whatever gross apathy and complacency has settled upon me. And I’m going to start with this blog.

Some thoughts for today: as I was walking the boardwalk (trying to get my weight under control), a sweet old man stopped me to tell me about a turtle he saw. I listened patiently, nodded encouragingly, and then simply kept on keeping on. It made me think about how all anyone needs is a little compassion, a little effort on the part of someone else to make them feel like they matter. I’m going to do my best to do more of that.

WEEKLY WRITING PROMPT #6.2017: Months after receiving a gunshot wound to the head, a patient is discharged from the hospital. She wears a pendant made from the bullet that was embedded in her skull.

Luna stared deep into her own reflection and she was trembling. She was in the ladies’ room of a fancy Italian restaurant that required patrons bring their own alcohol. She was dressed in an emerald green dress that glimmered like the scales of a fish – or a mermaid’s tale, if she was feeling especially fanciful – when the light caught it in just the right way. Her best girlfriends had insisted the color did wonders for her complexion and for her eyes. Luna assumed that same would be said of her hair, as it was the same shade of brown as her eyes, but her hair was gone. Her head was shaved. And although it had had about four months to grow back, her hair was taking its sweet time to return. The imperfections of the shape of her skull were exposed for all to see, and she felt so vulnerable. Her trembling hand moved to the side of her head, and trembling fingers traced the scar that ran from the front of her skull all the way to the back. It was ugly and purple and bloated, and it separated her hair in an unfashionable line.

The bullet entering and exiting her skull had done the same, had separated her life by an unfashionable, hard line. There was life before the bullet, and then there was life after the bullet.

Luna had been walking her overweight, long-haired Chihuahua named Teddy in the park just a block or two from her apartment building. It had been a marvel of a September day; warm enough to forego a coat beneath an unblemished blue sky. She saw the kids playing basketball and heard their raucous shouts and laughter. They added to the atmosphere, became ambient sound, and so she paid them no special attention. If she had, she might have dropped to the pavement when everyone else had.

In the shot of a lifetime, a stray bullet from an attempted drive-by shooting traveled through a chain link fence, across a blazing blacktop, and through another chain link fence before coming to halt inside the skull of Luna. She collapsed to the ground, falling at the same rate as the blood that spurted from the wound and splattered the fence. It made a neat pool on the ground around her, but Luna didn’t really remember all of that. She didn’t remember anything. It was all a black void until she woke up in the hospital about a month later.

When Luna was released, the doctors presented her with the bullet they had extracted from her skull during surgery. She had it melted down and molded into a neat oval, and she wore it around her neck. Her mother said she was morbid, and her friends never talked about it, but all of them had encouraged her to move on, to keep living, to be happy for her second chance. And Luna supposed she was.

But it was hard. It was hard looking like some oddly feminine monster of Dr. Frankenstein’s while trying to date. And it was hard to keep from crying when someone asked about the pendant she was wearing. And it was hard to escape to be confronted by a mirror.

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On the problem with remembering things.

Published August 3, 2017 by mandileighbean

If you’ve been reading this blog, or even if it’s your first time ever reading this blog (let me be brutally honest here), you’re probably able to tell that I’m a bit of an idiot. Luckily, I’m a loveable idiot who does no real harm and my friends only feign impatience for comedic effect. For example, I thought today was Tuesday but it’s Wednesday. I’ve been posting on my social media outlets about my upcoming Writer’s Wednesday, trying to hype it up which has obviously been quite ineffective because today is Wednesday. Today is Writer’s Wednesday. It’s 11:51 pm on Writer’s Wednesday, and I am now just sitting down to write.

But at least I have interesting things to share (which may or may not be thinly veiled excuses as to why I am late in updating this beloved blog AGAIN).

Yesterday was an AWESOME day. I received TWO requests for more material (the first three chapters of my completed manuscript and the entire completed manuscript) from two literary agencies! It feels SO GOOD not to be rejected outright, regardless of whether or not something comes from these requests. It’s also nice to know my query letter is effective. Oh, The Charlotte Gusay Literary Agency (that I think I mentioned last time) wrote me to tell me they received my sample chapters, so hopefully I hear something from them soon. AND a perfect stranger commented on my blog with the sweetest, most inspirational, and wonderfully kind message about my writing and what it meant to her. What writer could ask for anything more?

I met some of the neighborhood kids yesterday. I was reading and writing on my back porch, and they were friendly. They kept stopping to say hello once they’d reached the top of these large mounds of dirt on their bikes right behind my house (they appeared out of nowhere, but I think there’s plans to build a house on the vacant lot behind mine) and could see me properly. I went inside to eat dinner, and the kids knocked on my door. They asked for water, but I didn’t have any water bottles, so I gave them cans of soda (at least they were diet, right? Unless that’s worse; it’s impossible to tell anymore). They were very polite and gracious and kept telling me how nice I was. From the mouths of babes, right? They came back for a third can of soda for another friend, and the one kid really wanted to ask me for a band aid – weird – but the supposedly injured kid was decidedly against it, either because he wasn’t cut or he was embarrassed. Either way, it felt good to be a good person. I remember reading on Facebook one time that it’s important to smile at and be kind to children because it helps them keep their faith in humanity.

I kept the good deeds rolling today; I spent five hours cleaning my grandma’s house from top to bottom. She passed away on the last Monday in June, and it really knocked me on my ass. I know death and grief has that effect on most people, but I really thought I was prepared. She had Alzheimer’s, so we all knew what was coming, but it’s still so … sad. It’s just sad. We have to liquidate all her assets to start executing the will, so we have to sell her house. All the furniture’s been emptied out and given to family in need, and gone are all her personal effects. My entrance into her home was marked by a melancholy echo. Everything reverberated in the empty space and I needed a few moments to catch my breath, to blink back tears. It was so surreal to see it vacant and unlived in, like all my memories of that house could be as easily removed from existence. I dusted and wiped and vacuumed and scrubbed and swept and scoured in that small, dark space for hours, literally eliminating any trace that my grandma – or anyone for that matter – had ever been there. What a strange concept.

My grandma’s home is in an adult retirement community. I feel like I should mention that to better explain why her house was small. Also, it’s dark because since her death, no one’s been in the home and bulbs burn out unnoticed. That’s all well and good, but while I was cleaning, a wicked thunder storm rolled through and made everything darker, my mood included.

At one point, I halted what I was doing and stood to stretch. My back and arms were sore from more cleaning than I’d ever done in my life. I looked out the window in the former dining room and saw sunlight streaming in my grandma’s backyard. There were splashes of sun on the formidable hill directly behind her house, visible through the window, but it was raining and I could hear the thunder in the distance as it crept closer, its growl low and menacing.

I couldn’t have invented a better metaphor. I guess that admission doesn’t bode well for this week’s blog post, eh? Well, it’s been a disaster from the start, honestly; I don’t even know what day it is. I hope you read and comment and share and enjoy anyway. I should mention that this week’s writing prompt proved very challenging. It tackles an exceedingly sensitive subject, and I did my best to keep that in mind throughout my writing.

WEEKLY WRITING PROMPT #5.2017: A woman is raped by her husband.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that humans do their best thinking in the shower. More than that, it’s scientific; being engaged in a mindless task (like shampooing and conditioning and sudsing up) in a relaxed environment (what’s more relaxing than a steamy shower?) sort of shuts down the brain’s prefrontal cortex, thus allowing the brain to consider creative and unconventional solutions to problems. Unfortunately for Chloe, her fingers were grossly wrinkled and the water was turning cold, but she still hadn’t been able to figure out why she was crying or why her stomach kept flipping over. She was seated on the shower floor directly under the showerhead with her knees pulled up to her chin and with her arms wrapped around her legs.

Chloe was trying to hold herself together.

She had started falling apart, had sunk into the pathetic posture of her current state, once she noticed the pinkish hue of the water circling the drain; blood. It was evidence something bad had happened last night.

It wasn’t the only evidence, either. The uneasy feeling exacerbated by the tiny rivers of previously dried blood that briefly streamed down her legs and arms had manifested when Chloe climbed from the bed exceedingly sore – even in places she didn’t know could ache – and undressed to find bruises. Dark, brutal-looking spots marred the skin on her thighs, upper arms, and chest. She ran trembling fingers over them, pressing to feel the pain, to make sure they were just what she thought they were.

Something bad had happened. The question was what.

Chloe’s reflection had given nothing away. Smeared makeup and puffy, swollen eyes were par for the course when she drank, and she had gotten loaded last night. She and Paul both had gotten loaded to celebrate … celebrate something Chloe couldn’t exactly recall, which meant it had been Paul’s affair, Paul’s idea. Had he been promoted? It was something predictable and clichéd like that, but they had gone overboard, partying like the newly rich, like they were young and dumb.

Chloe remembered stumbling into a blessedly empty ladies’ room in the thick of things. She staggered over to the sink, slow and stupid, and caught a glimpse of herself. She knew she needed to slow down, maybe something of a premonition of the bad thing to come. Naturally Chloe’s resolve completely dissipated when she returned to Paul, to their private party.

But she remembered saying no, and doing so firmly, loudly. Chloe remembered wanting to stop. Was that at the restaurant? At any one of the many bars that followed? In the car?

Chloe gasped. She remembered a fight in the bedroom. They had been fooling around on the bed, half in the bag and half undressed, and Chloe wanted to stop. It was like that when she drank. She’d suddenly have to put herself to bed or else the room would spin and she’s vomit. Chloe had tried to explain this to Paul, which was weird because her husband knew her inside and out and should be familiar with her warning signs, but Paul wouldn’t listen. Paul just wanted to keep feeling good and wasn’t taking no for an answer.

But that couldn’t be right. With the shuddering sobs passing through her bruised body, Chloe was trying to be rational. They were drunk and things got out of hand. Paul loved her and she loved Paul, and they were husband and wife, happily married.

People don’t rape the people they love. Husbands can’t rape their wives.

How could Chloe even think of the r-word? That wasn’t Paul; he was a good man and an amazing husband. He only got a little “handsy” when he drank.

But there was blood. And there were bruises. And Chloe had said no.

Chloe had been raped by her husband. And she was going to stay in the shower until she knew what that really meant or she drowned.

She was hoping for the latter.

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OH! And you should read A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby if you need to get out of an emotional funk or want to cry happy tears or both. The movie is just as fantastic.

 

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