Her Beautiful Monster

All posts tagged Her Beautiful Monster

On still insisting to see the ghosts.

Published September 13, 2017 by mandileighbean

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

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

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

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

I was the worst fifteen-year-old.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My stomach flipped over.

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

We saw cop cars go speeding by.

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

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

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

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

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

 

On 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.

 

On therapy and leather.

Published July 27, 2017 by mandileighbean

I took just a smidge more than a week off because my three nephews were visiting, and they are considerably more than a handful. The oldest just turned 9, the middle one is 6, and the youngest is 3. My sister is something of a saint, no? I foolishly thought I’d have time to update during their visit, but I’m happy to report that I was SO wrong and spent every moment I could with my three favorite gentlemen.

I am also super happy to report that The Charlotte Gusay Literary Agency requested a full manuscript. I shared the news on my Facebook page, and someone commented, “No. They sent me the same letter. They want money,” or something to that effect. I did some research and it seems they do ask for $35, which is not something literary agents typically do. However, the latest incident reported was five years ago and $35 seems a small fee if the agency likes my manuscript and wishes to work with me. I wonder how much of the online reporting is reliable, and how much of it is colored by pissed off people who never made it.

No reward without the risk, right? That being said, I sent an email – which I now regret – inquiring about the “fee.” I hope they don’t think I’m a jerk, unprofessional, or unwilling to pursue this offer. I act impulsively most of the time, which has mostly proved problematic and left me with more than a handful regrets. But that’s not an invitation to a pity party; only a smooth segue to this week’s blog post.

Enjoy! Read. Comment. Share.

WEEKLY WRITING PROMPT #4.2017: “He’s attractive, he’s funny, he’s rich. Why am I not interested?”

The leather couch looked fancy as hell. It was made of brown tufted leather, the upholstery buttons had a warm golden finish, and the actual shape of the couch was kind of urban and retro. It did not scream comfort so much as it did elegance, so it was exactly the kind of couch one would picture being in a reputable yet chic therapist’s office. The couch perfectly matched the mahogany desk and bookshelves and everything was just so bourgeois and it made Gemma feel worse.

When she had stretched out along the sofa, the leather groaned and drew more attention to itself than Gemma had wanted. She knew, just knew, that Dr. Hoffmann was appraising her cheap cotton shirts and plain cotton tee-shirt, sizing her up to be something worse than what she was (if that was even possible). Gemma should have dressed for the occasion, but what does one wear to their second therapist appointment? She didn’t know; she didn’t know anything, really. And the only instruction Dr. Hoffmann had given was to talk. But what should she talk about? She had chewed her bottom lip for a minute or two in agonizing silence before Dr. Hoffmann finally offered some direction: “How’s the love life?”

Gemma barked a laugh, a masculine guffaw that she immediately regretted, that embarrassed her. She covered her burning face with her hands and apologized. Gently, Dr. Hoffmann reminded her that she had nothing to apologize for and asked about that interesting, swift response. “It’s been complicated,” Gemma said. She slid her hands down her face, stretching the skin and smearing her makeup. “I had my heart broken or whatever – I mean, I guess it was pretty traumatic – but there’s this new guy now. He’s attractive, he’s funny, he’s rich.” Gemma groaned. “Why am I not interested?”

“Well, I think the answer to that question is fairly obvious, don’t you?”

Gemma bolted upright. It wasn’t Dr. Hoffmann’s voice that had asked the question, but someone else. It was someone she had never ever wanted to see again, and someone she hoped she bumped into randomly every day. It was strong but melodic, unremarkable but wonderful, full of contradictions just like its owner, who had been so beautiful and awful all at once. Slowly, like a B-actress in the climax of a fairly predictable horror movie, she turned her neck to the side and saw him sitting in the chair, looking as handsome and smug as ever. It was the heart breaker himself, Jax.

His real name was Ajax; his terribly pretentious parents had actually named him after a Greek god, and its meaning was “powerful eagle,” or something equally as absurd when not living in Ancient Greece. Maybe it wasn’t Jax’s fault he was a complete and total douche bag but more a fulfillment of destiny. How could a guy be anything but a twat waffle with a name like that? His future of seersucker pants and canvas boat shoes had been inescapable. And Gemma had fallen for it, had fallen for it hard.

Gemma was furious and wanted nothing more than to leap to her feet in a manner that exuded that anger and some confidence and she wanted to be intimidating. But her thighs ripping from the leather and the way the leather groaned whenever she made the slightest movement made the whole thing unimpressive and lame. “You can’t be here. This isn’t possible.”

“And yet here I am,” Jax grinned, showing a quick flash of teeth before he smoothed his countenance into something so forced and serious it was comical. “Now, I’d really like to discuss this lack of interest in a suitable partner.” He wasn’t in his usual attire. He was wearing a tailored three-piece suit and looked every bit the medical professional. He even crossed one leg over the other, mindful of the fabric and of creating any unseemly creases.

“Go to hell,” Gemma said. “That’s none of your business. You need to leave.” She surveyed the room quickly. “How’d you even get in here?”

Jax rolled his eyes and his tone was impatient. “You brought me, obviously.”

Gemma shut her eyes tight and shook her head. This didn’t make sense, couldn’t actually be happening, and she had to come back to reality. “I need to find Dr. Hoffmann.” She opened her eyes and headed towards the door. Gracefully, Jax moved to block her exit.

“Then what? You get someone to come in here and find that I’m gone? Or that Dr. Hoffmann’s been here the whole time? They’ll send you to a psychiatrist and you’ll spend most of your remaining days heavily sedated.” Jax smiled sadly. “Imagine the damper that’ll put on your social life.”

“So what is this? Why are you here?”

“You tell me.”

Gemma gritted her teeth. “Don’t act like you’re a therapist and just tell -”

“No, no, I’m serious,” Jax interrupted. “Believe me; I am not here of my own free will. You brought me here to deal with me.”

“Deal with you? I’m so done with you, Jax,” Gemma growled. She pushed past him and returned to the couch. She also returned to her prostrate position and returned to the idea that if she closed her eyes real tight and then opened them, this would all go away.

“That’s obviously inaccurate. If it were true, you could have talked about me to Dr. Hoffmann no problem, but you tried to gloss it over and now here I am,” Jax said. “And you won’t look at me. And you can’t date anyone else.”

“That’s not true,” Gemma shouted. Her eyes popped open and she turned to look at Jax. “I didn’t avoid discussing you, I just didn’t know what to talk about. And I think it’s perfectly normal for me to not relive every single disappointment with you.”

“I was disappointing?” Jax asked, surprised.

Gemma rolled her eyes and looked at the ceiling. “What would you call it when you think you’re going to spend the rest of your life with someone and they just slowly phase you out? You stopped hanging out, you stopped calling and texting; it just ended.”

“You wanted to spend the rest of your life with me?” Jax asked, touched.

Gemma didn’t answer. She continued staring at the ceiling.

“If that’s true, you didn’t fight very hard.”

“Seriously?” Gemma challenged. She sat up. “Danielle always says that if a guy wants to spend time with you, he will.”

“Oh, and Danielle knows me really well, does she? She knows all the intricacies of our relationship?”

Gemma faltered. “No, but -”

“It can’t be all on me all the time, Gemma. Was I an asshole? Absolutely. You knew I was an asshole from the beginning though, to be fair.” Gemma was about to protest but Jax continued. “But you kept me from being an asshole and I helped you be a little bit more of an asshole. That’s why we worked. You made me a more thoughtful man and I helped you be less of a doormat.”

“Why did we stop working?”

Jax looked away and shrugged. “I don’t know. That’s probably a conversation we should have though, isn’t it?”

“Yes, definitely,” Gemma said.

And Jax was gone. She was looking at a terribly confused Dr. Hoffmann. “Excuse me, Gemma? I asked you why you laughed.”

Slowly, Gemma sat up. “What?”

Patiently, Dr. Hoffmann leaned forward and said, “When I asked you about your love life, you laughed. And then I asked you why you laughed, and you told me, ‘Yes, definitely.’ I’m just confused.”

Gemma laughed. “Me too, Doc. Or at least I was.” She looked around the room. “Do you think I could step out a moment? I just need to make a quick phone call.”

On physical impossibilities.

Published July 12, 2017 by mandileighbean

I’m going to save the apology for the lapse in posting and refrain from the typical slew of empty promises and resolutions. You know the drill; sometimes I post, sometimes I don’t, but please believe me when I say I always want to. Writing fulfills me in a way that nothing else really does (except maybe Popeye’s chicken), and it needs to be more of a priority. Also, they’re building a Popeye’s near me, so how’s that for a sign from the universe?

I’m proud of this week’s writing prompt for a couple of different reasons. First, it’s the beginning of a better writing schedule (last empty promise I make, I swear (well, other than that last one)). Second, I use first-person point of view, which is something I never do. Using first-person point of view feels like a confession or admission, like it’s too personal to build a character that isn’t just me with a different name. All my writing might be like that, now that I think about it. Third, it is personal and I think I tackle a very real fear for woman of a certain age without being melodramatic. This voice I use could be fleshed out into a very real and very endearing character were I to pursue and develop this idea further.

Hope you enjoy! Please comment and let me know what you think, and please share.

WEEKLY WRITING PROMPT #3.2017: The day before helping her best friend give birth, a woman of thirty learns that she will never have children of her own.

These days, you can’t fucking smoke anywhere.

I mean, the hospital I get; no one should be smoking there for obvious reasons I don’t have to enumerate to make my case. But walking across the street from the hospital – and then ten more yards for good measure – seems closer to ridiculous than anything else. And doing so in ninety-degree weather isn’t helping my mood. It’s incredibly hard to be rational when I’m sweaty and uncomfortable and in desperate, desperate need of a cigarette. I’m filling up with something awful as I halt at the end of the hospital property, teetering on the curb before the busy highway in cheap flip flops. I look left and then right and then right again, because my mom raised me right, and then dart across.

All things considered, getting mowed down by a truck doesn’t seem like the end of the world. I should have lingered just a few moments more, maybe. But that kind of thinking is irrational and morbid and goddamn, I just don’t want to think anymore. I just want a cigarette.

It’s easy to find the other smokers, huddled shamefully beneath a weak-looking tree at the far end of a parking lot for a quaint plaza. The weak-looking tree is the only source of shade and as I approach, I realize everyone beneath the tree is dressed in scrubs and smiling and laughing; they’re all hospital staff and they’re all friends. I think I’ll stand just a few feet away. I’m in no mood to make new friends or yuck it up, but I don’t want to be a bitch.

Scratch that; I don’t know what I want.

Wait, that’s wrong. I know what I want. I want a cigarette. And in this poor, poor excuse for Shangri La, I will have one.

As I light up, I consider the irony of doctors and nurses who smoke. Why anyone willingly inhales carcinogens, myself included, is beyond me, but it seems especially asinine for people who spend their lives saving lives to engage in a wildly unnecessary and risky behavior such as smoking. But fuck me, right? Here I am, puffing away. I might as well enjoy the irony, like an extra in a film who gets casts as an Oscar winner. That kind of irony is less dangerous and more humorous, kind of like how I always thought I’d never have kids because I’d never find a good man. But after thirty long and lonely years, I found a good man – the best man – and he’ll never be a father because my fallopian tubes are too narrow.

I’ll never be a mother. Thinking it aloud in my head forces me to acknowledge the idea with a fatal finality, and I take a seat on the grass beneath the three. I want to take up as little space as possible, curl all up around myself, and shrink into nonexistence; the ultimate Irish exit.

Taking a long drag, I know I’m bordering on morbidity and irrationality again, but there’s definitely something crushing about finding out you physically cannot have children. It wasn’t a choice I made, part of some chic, progressive lifestyle (I’m not being judgmental; to each his own, man. Live and let live, I say). I knew I was lucky to meet Frank; for a while there I thought I’d die alone, like really and truly alone, where the only people at my funeral are friends who have outlived me and cemetery staff. I wanted love and to be loved so badly I was on the verge of doing something reckless and desperate, like online dating (that’s a joke; I don’t judge). Enter Frank, the knight in shining armor; a decent-looking man with a great sense of humor, steady income, and a tolerance for feminine bullshit that is otherworldly. He’s been so patient and forgiving, and I don’t deserve him; I really don’t.

But he deserves children. He wants them; we’ve talked about it. And I can’t give that to him.

I know there’s adoption and fostering and surrogates and a seemingly endless list of possibilities. I know, somewhere deep down inside that this doesn’t have to be the end of the discussion, but it’s different and anyone who says different is selling something.

So maybe I should amend my earlier assertion: I’ll never be a mother on my own terms.

I suppose that sounds kind of selfish and twisted and grotesque, but hey; that’s me all over. Like right now, I’m smoking this cigarette in the July heat when I’m supposed to be at Kathleen’s side, holding her hand and feeding her ice chips, the whole delivery shebang. I snuck out because I needed a cigarette because those roles will never be reversed. I can’t have kids.

And it’s obviously jacking me up real bad, but I can never ever say anything to Kathleen about this, especially not today, which is ironic because it’s the one day it’s dismantling my psyche. Kathleen’s my best friend – another love I don’t really deserve – and she’d be the most supportive person in the world. Seriously, if I told her right now about all of this, she’d Google solutions on her phone from her hospital bed, shouting search results to me as they move her into the delivery room. But it’s her day and I just need to handle my shit.

If I had a daughter, that’s a lesson I’d teach her, that being a strong woman means that sometimes, you just have to handle it. You can break later but in the moment, step up.

I could teach my son that lesson too, because really, strength transcends gender.

Great; I’m crying. I’m sweaty, smell like smoke, and mascara’s running down my cheeks. I’m a mess, and everyone will know and everyone will ask, and we all know that only makes things worse.

Fuck. Shit. Balls.

I haven’t told Frank yet either. Think he’ll leave? He won’t, like I said he’s a good man, but he’ll think about it. And who could blame him?

I take one last drag and stub the cigarette out on the curb behind me. I have to stretch to the point of almost laying down, so fuck it. I lay down in the grass with my head uncomfortably on the curb to watch the sky through the leaves of the weak tree.

What a world.Generic-smoking

On life-changing events.

Published March 20, 2017 by mandileighbean

I know it’s been a while since the last time I wrote, which is a phrase I use much too often to begin these posts. I promised myself I would make writing a priority and I haven’t. To paraphrase William Wordsworth, the world is too much with me. I let work and friends and television and social media and solitaire and invented melodramas take up much too much of my time, but that is all changing, slowly but surely. After all, they say you need to acknowledge and admit to having a problem before you can even begin to solve it.

It is a REAL tragedy writing hasn’t moved more into the forefront of my thoughts and ambitions and desires because that conference/workshop was truly life changing. It was a whirlwind of emotions, but I left feeling validated and prepared and motivated and determined. I mustn’t lose sight of that, or it will all be for nothing.

So today, I kicked my own ass running along the Barnegat Bay (good for body and soul) and am sitting down to properly update you all on that amazing, life-changing, soul-affirming trip to St. Augustine. The trip to Florida was relatively unremarkable; I left my parents house at about midnight (after only shutting my eyes for three hours before the 15-hour drive; I was too anxious, too excited, too eager) and essentially took I-95 all the way down. I passed A LOT of accidents, which I worried might be a bad omen, but I also drove by the Capitol Building, the Washington Monument, and the Pentagon, which I don’t think I’ve ever done despite my many years traveling up and down the Eastern seaboard. Once I arrived in St. Augustine and made it to the hotel, all of my fears were assuaged. I made it, and I had never felt so blessed in my life. It was stunning – absolutely breathtaking – gorgeous! There were so many boats out on the water – the weather was pretty much perfect the entire time I was in St. Augustine – and I could see the boats in the bay from the balcony outside my hotel room. It was impossible (well, almost) to tell the residents from the tourists because everyone was walking along the water in the sunshine. Handsome men were running shirtless, couples were taking leisurely strolls with cool beverages in hand. Such clichéd phrases don’t even do it justice, but they’re all I seem able to muster. I was – and still am – SO grateful, SO thrilled for the opportunity. It was AMAZING and I was continuously in AWE.

How did I ever come back to Jersey?

People in St. Augustine seemed – to me, anyway – to have MONEY – like Gatsby money, and I didn’t bring a laptop to a flipping writers’ workshop/conference (because I didn’t have one; couldn’t afford one). I momentarily felt like an utter moron, but I was okay. And the first thing I purchased with my tax return money was a laptop so I feel like EVEN MORE of a writer now.

Anyway, the first night in St. Augustine was marked by an informal, get-to-know-everyone-dinner. It was … interesting, tp say the VERY least. I went down to the hotel lobby around 7pm and sat outside and waited. Naturally, the others had gathered inside so when I awkwardly meandered in after creeping about the greenery, I met everyone.

Greg is a retired firefighter from the Midwest. Joanna published two novels twenty years ago, and has a house in Palm Beach and a house in the Hamptons. Paula was in medical communications but now she lives in Houston and I think she’s writing full time. Add me to the crew and we were the writers all staying at the hotel.

I instinctively liked Michael Neff, the editor. I hoped I made a good impression and toyed the line between desperate and casual, if such a line even exists. During dinner, I sat between Joanna and Noreene, who just flew in from the Grand Cayman Islands; completely chic and fabulous. I sat across from Doug from Cincinnati; he was hard to read at first, but shortly became one of my favorite people from the whole experience (he used to be a stand-up comedian and the last few days in St. Augustine, he made me laugh so hard, I cried and on top of that, he really is a phenomenal writer, so whatever. Maybe I’m mostly jealous; favorite might be too positive a word. But I’m just kidding. Maybe). Greg was across from me as was Literary Agent Paula (who I’m only referring to as such to differentiate her from Paula from Houston; don’t worry, I didn’t call her that or anything).

I LOVED Literary Agent Paula and on the first night, she gave me GREAT advice. I’ve subscribed to Publisher’s Marketplace, have decided to really focus on finding an agent, am endeavoring to attend more “pitch” conferences, and have decided to break away from Martin Sisters Publishing (the separation ended up being mutual … more on that later). But from listening to everyone talk about the conferences they’d been to and the important people they knew, I felt overwhelmed and realized I was greener than I thought. I was the youngest person there by decades. I knew I had the talent and the passion, but quickly began to understand that I needed the wisdom.

Cris is an author from California and Lunka is an aspiring writer with a full-time job (so we had a somewhat instant connection) from Denver; so cool.

So the next day (February 25th) marked the first REAL day of the conference/workshop. I was SCARED; I worked on my pitch for the novel I was currently working on (the title was stupid, so I’ll just call it The Duke Story [even though that’s also stupid]) the night before but still felt mostly nauseous. We met at a beautiful house right on the beach, and it was like something out of a movie or, even better, out of a dream. We sat in a circle and everyone read their pitches. It was so cool and interesting to see how everyone’s pitch matched their personality. I was really impressed with a couple of the stories, and everyone had something awesome to share … except me. At least that’s what it felt like, because my mood went from nauseated to dead when both Literary Agent Paula and Michael told me The Duke Story wasn’t marketable and encouraged me to work on “Don’t Drink the Water” (but that title is different now, too).

I felt deflated and was too wrapped up in my own shit to enjoy lunch at The Reef, but I did get to know Cris. When we returned to the house to wrap up the day’s session, Literary Agent Paula advised me to ask Hallie Ephron (ARE YOU KIDDING ME?) about the possibility of working on Her Beautiful Monster; Michael loved the title and wanted me to re-work it, but Literary Agent Paula was nervous because it had been published, has an ISBN number, and can easily be looked up … even though the publisher is so small it’s obscure. I felt lost and was happy to return to the hotel. Joanna drove Greg, Paula and me back to the hotel, but we stopped at Publix and the liquor store first. Paula and I needed some grocery items and we all needed booze after the first day. I happily joined them for the free happy hour at the hotel, and got to know Paula better. We sat on the porch swing outside of her room and talked a little bit about everything in our lives. Then I got to work on our assigned homework (identify five things that make our protagonist sympathetic, interesting, unique, etc. by showing, not telling). I used Charlotte from “Don’t Drink the Water” and did okay.

The second day (February 26th) was MUCH better for my ego, my soul, my passion. When I pitched “Don’t Drink the Water,” both Michael and Literary Agent Paula liked it. Then I went on to meet Robert Olen Butler and HE CHANGED MY LIFE. Throughout the course of our conversation, he validated my dream. He understood The Duke Story and my intention; he took the words right out of my mouth, the words I wished I had when I first pitched the story in front of everyone, and he told me he believed I could do it. I cried and hugged him. He is an amazing man and I will forever be indebted to him, no matter what comes of my so-called writing career.

After the conversation, I reworked my pitch and befriended Lunka. We had a spiritual connection as we were both really moved by our conversations with Robert and we exchanged numbers. I have a new writer friend 🙂 After the day’s schedule, Greg and I got dinner in downtown St. Augustine, and I drank and bonded with Joanna at the hotel’s happy hour. While we were there, we met HALLIE EPHRON. I tried to play it cool, but I was sweaty and I’m almost certain I mumbled and drooled instead of actually forming words. She couldn’t have been nicer. Michael brought her there to check her in and he stopped to say hello and encouraged me to do his online course after the workshop/conference. Spoiler alert: I definitely am.

The third day (February 27th) was INTENSE. The morning was actually low-key; we re-worked our pitches and shared our character traits of our protagonists. We all broke for lunch after, and I ate Chinese with Joanna, Paula and Greg. We shared a bottle of wine to calm ourselves because the second half of the day, we pitched our stories to Executive Editor Lyssa Keusch of HarperCollins Publishers (WHAT?! ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!), Brendan Deneen of Macmillan Entertainment (IS THIS REAL LIFE?!), and Hallie Ephron, the New York Times Best Selling Author (SERIOUSLY?!?!). It was a whirlwind and while I didn’t feel 100% about the experience, it was SO informational and beneficial.

To commemorate our last full day together in St. Augustine, we had dinner together and it was AMAZING, GREAT, WONDERFUL! Joanna and I became as thick as thieves, Doug made me laugh, and Noreene was as sweet as she was fabulous. Joanna and Greg and I drank together back at the hotel and Joanna convinced Lyssa to join us. SO EPIC. SO AWESOME.

All that was scheduled for our very last day (February 28th) were individual consults with Michael Neff. After each consult, the writer left amidst heartfelt goodbyes. My consult was GREAT; Michael was so helpful and encouraging. I left the conference/workshop with a definite purpose and direction and really, what more can a writer ask for? I am in the middle of research, of signing up for the novel development online course, and am beginning writing very soon.

So when I returned to Jersey all fired up, I emailed Martin Sisters Publishing to inquire about my second novel, MOODY BLUE. I had signed a contract and sent it back, but that was back in the final month of 2016 and had heard nothing back. As it turns out, they had no intention of publishing my novel (said they “…couldn’t give it the attention it deserves”) and offered to send it to an even smaller online publisher.

I told them not to bother, but thanked them for everything. I emailed Literary Agent Paula, Michael, and have begun to query agents once again.

Here we go.

Below are links to Joanna’s website and Doug’s website.
JoannaElm.com
DougSpakWrites.com

And I’m sharing some pictures below.

Prompts start again next week … I promise!

On dead bodies in trunks.

Published January 28, 2017 by mandileighbean

Despite the incredibly morbid and possibly pessimistic title of this post, I’m doing okay. Personal gains and disappointments amidst family drama and social networking have kept me from posting sooner, but here I am, better late than never, which is quickly becoming the best phrase to describe how I operate on this spinning globe.

I am happy to report that my Go Fund Me reached its goal and I am on my way to St. Augustine, Florida at the end of February! Not only is my trip paid for by generous and supportive friends and family and colleagues and former students, but I’ve been granted the time off from work. It feels like something might finally be coming together for me in a big way. I’ll be sure to keep you all updated, posting video blogs from my hotel room.

For now, enjoy the following writing prompt, which inspired the macabre title of the post.

WEEKLY WRITING PROMPT #2.2017: A young woman discovers a dead body in the trunk of her car. The body in question appears to be the president of the United States.

Laura hated running late and despite her best efforts, it seemed as if she was always just five minutes behind schedule, always just a little delayed. It was so frustrating to be so close to punctuality and yet so far. How could she make up just 300 seconds? What part of her morning routine could be eliminated so the she didn’t find herself breathless, sprinting across a filled parking lot and praying no supervisor would see her in such a state?

This morning, Laura was running later than usual, much later. She woke up with a dull, consistent throb at the base of her skull. Her normally wide eyes squinted against the pain in a futile effort to combat it, and as she lay against her pillows with the impatient buzzing of her alarm clock doing nothing to help her aching head, she rubbed her temples slowly, willing it all to just go away. Laura must have stayed in that position for longer than she realized, longer than she wanted, because when she slowly and reluctantly rolled over to face the angry-looking, red numbers of the alarm clock, she had wasted nearly half-an-hour.

Panicked now, she threw the blanket and sheet far from her, cursing constantly. She stripped as quickly as she could and hurried into the shower. She was cranky, angry she couldn’t just stand beneath the nearly scalding water cascading from the showerhead to try and soothe her aching head. Laura almost felt hungover, but that was impossible; she hadn’t had any alcohol since last Friday, which was a good three days ago. As a matter of fact, the last liquid she remembered swallowing was from a sealed water bottle her supervisor had tossed to her as she was leaving for the day yesterday. Laura had considered it a peace offering from the strong, intimidating man with the dark features and serious face. She had been called into his office earlier that day to be reprimanded for simply asking too many questions; that’s how Laura interpreted it, anyway.

On more than one occasion, she had asked about the whereabouts of President Holster, had asked to see him. She worked in DC as some sort of distant assistant to the White House press secretary, but had been fortunate enough to come to know and admire President Holster on a personal level. One night, they had talked at length about everything and anything from immigration reform to their favorite teams in the NFL to their extended relatives. President Holster had made his beliefs and opinions clear, and Laura’s eyes had shone with admiration when he confidently stated he didn’t care that those opinions and beliefs were unpopular among his colleagues, his cabinet, and congress. He had been elected by the good people of a great nation, and everyone would simply have to get on board or get out. It was a daring ultimatum, but one that spoke of bravery and even though Laura had not agreed with all of President Holster’s ideas for the nation, she had faith in his hoped and dreams and aspirations. She truly believed he wanted to make the nation a better place, a much better place.

After the conversation, President Holster had altogether disappeared from the White House. When he finally resurfaced, it was a televised interview from an undisclosed location, during which he went against everything he had told Laura and the good people of the great nation. He spoke of new policies and executive orders and scheduling meetings that pleased the majority of the politicians working in DC, but everything he said directly contradicted everything he had said just a week before. Such a reversal was troubling, and Laura wanted to ask President Holster about it.

So she started to ask for a meeting. Laura was stonewalled; she was told time and time again that he was busy and unavailable even though there was nothing on the Presidential agenda. Confused, Laura changed tactics and just asked where the president currently was, scheming to engineer a casual, surprise encounter. But no one could answer the question to her satisfaction. Things were decidedly weird, and she continued to ask her questions and began to vocalize her concerns. President Holster continued to make televised appearances from more undisclosed locations, but something was wrong. Laura found it harder and harder to believe that she was the only one who noticed the oddities stacking up. She asked colleagues, brought it up at happy hour, but everyone just turned away, stone-faced and quiet.

Her supervisor caught wind of her inquiry and roared her down, screaming with an alarming amount of intensity and rage that her job was to support the president and not question or challenge him. He told her she needed to fall in line or seriously think about the future of her career in politics because if he chose to, he could ruin her. It was threatening and scary, and she had been ashamed of the way she had wilted and scurried back to her desk with her tail between her legs. When she collapsed into her desk chair, the leather cracked and worn, she noticed she had a message. The tiny red light on her answering machine was blinking. She hit play and to her astonishment, President Holster came on the line.

“I hear you’ve been trying to get in touch with me, Laura,” the president began in his slow, Southern drawl. “I’m sorry I haven’t been able to talk to you. I’ve been mighty busy running a country,” he said lamely with a forced laugh. “I just wanted to assuage your fears and concerns. I am fine and doing everything I possibly can to make this great nation of ours even greater. I appreciate the concern and support, and hope you have a wonderful day.” That was it; that was the entire message. It was bizarre and controlled and suddenly, Laura felt like crying.

She hadn’t been able to focus on much for the rest of the work day, was decidedly useless, and she felt woefully defeated. Her shoulders felt heavy as she shut down her computer, turned off her desk lamp, and slipped her messenger bag over her head so that the strap rested across her body. She was walking – though it felt more like limping – to the elevator when her supervisor had called to her. She turned back with wide, scared eyes.

He apologized for being so aggressive, tried to call it being passionate, and claimed he understood Laura to be passionate too. He told her that was a good thing, a great thing even, but that she needed to channel her passion into being supportive rather than divisive. Laura nodded like she understood, but she didn’t really, and just wanted him and the whole day to go away. He tossed her a water bottle and told her to drive safe, and then he turned away. Laura slinked to the elevator, drove home, had dinner and went to bed.

Now here she was, scrambling out of the shower to get dressed and down some breakfast in fifteen minutes. It seemed a Herculean task and she wasn’t sure she was up for it. Her head still throbbed and the memory of yesterday’s events made her feel nauseous and anxious and just plain awful. The nausea coupled with the lump in her throat from the mounting anxiety reduced breakfast to buttered toast and coffee, and she only felt worse when she finally climbed behind the wheel of her jeep; the digital clock in the dashboard read 9:15am. She was going to be over an hour late. Nearly screaming and feeling like crying, Laura pulled out of her driveway and rode through residential streets behind impossibly slow drivers that seemed to conspire to make her as late as possible before making it to the highway.

After the on ramp, Laura was checking her side view mirror, eager to slide into the fast lane and gun it for as far she could, speed limit be damned, but a truly atrocious odor had filled her car. It was sickeningly sweet but unlike anything Laura had ever smelled before, what she imagined a piece of rotting meat doused in cheap perfume must smell like. Her already tumultuous stomach took a dangerous turn and she just didn’t think she could handle puking on herself, so Laura allowed her car to drift into the soft dirt beyond the shoulder. She parked and exited the car, gratefully taking in lungful after lungful of air.

What was that godawful smell? And where was it coming from? Laura walked around the outside of the car, sniffing cautiously for traces of the rank and pungent odor. Her nostrils flared in disgust near her trunk and Laura stopped there. Had she accidentally left a bag of groceries back there or something? Did she forget to remove and clean the cooler she had used when visiting her friends at the beach a couple of weeks ago? Laura could swear the cooler was sitting clean and empty in her garage. She decided the only way to figure things out was to open the trunk, and so she did.

And she screamed, and screamed, and screamed.

Gracelessly shoved into the trunk of Laura’s car was the dead and decaying body of President Holster. Laura collapsed to her knees.

spookywhitehouse

 

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