Journey

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On fountains.

Published July 7, 2016 by mandileighbean

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FOUNTAINS
by Mandi Bean

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carlos breathed a simple “hey.”

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

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

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

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

fountains

 

On battling bullshit.

Published December 31, 2015 by mandileighbean

newyearnewme

It’s the end of another year. We’re all preparing for the onslaught of “new year, new you” messages and postings, and I know the majority think such verbiage is cliched bullshit. I was such a believer until I sat down to draft this blog post.

The endings and beginnings of life often prompt us to be introspective, and as a writer, I’m hopelessly narcissistic, so at this time of year, I do nothing but think about myself, talk about myself, and write about myself. I think we’re all allowed some selfish moments if they are to truly be reflective and endeavor us to be greater.

There are lots of things I hate about myself. One of the more depressing aspects of society is that we all can do this, and that we all have done it, and that we all will most likely continue to do it, and that is list our failings. My favorite kind of humor is of the self-deprecating kind, and my favorite kind of gathering is a pity party. I’m not revealing these less than appealing parts of myself to elicit sympathy or to begin to construct a false kind of humility to make my self seem more creatively eccentric. Hand to God, I’m just trying to let you know that I get it, that I understand, and that I’ve been there too. There are days where I absolutely and unequivocally hate myself.

But there are also days where I’m not so bad. There are days where I am downright awesome and a sheer pleasure to be around. In 2016, I am going to acknowledge more of those days. And in that same state of mind, I’d like to share my favorite thing about myself. What makes Mandi Bean worth anything is my childlike optimism. I could list all the disappointments of the past year, but I could also list all the times I’ve been pleasantly surprised, when I’ve fallen in love – yet again – with this spinning globe, with humanity, and with the endless opportunities for romance and adventure this crazy, miraculous life offers. As such, I am totally buying into the “new year, new me” bullshit. I will be a newer, happier, and healthier version of myself in 2016. Those who roll their eyes in derision and/or disbelief are free to do so; that’s their right. But as for me, with a smile and a deep breath and a pleasantly unfamiliar sense of determination, here is how I am going to make 2016 my banner year:

  1. I will, as mentioned previously, focus on the positives. Every day, I will find something to be grateful for and I will put it in writing, so I can’t lie to myself later.
  2. I aim to lose 60 pounds by December 31, 2016. I’m the maid of honor for my friend’s wedding, so there’s extrinsic motivation, but more importantly, I want to be beautiful. I want my outside to match my inside, and I’m pretty proud of what I’ve got going on in there.
  3. I am going to be a writer. I’ll update this blog faithfully, market my published work, work harder to get my second manuscript published, and seriously work on a third.

Three promises to myself. I can do this. I will do this. I will forgive myself when I stumble along the way, and I will encourage others endeavoring to become the best version of themselves.

Here’s to a happy, healthy New Year.

xoxo

newyear2016

On catching a break.

Published April 7, 2013 by mandileighbean

March 30th was my last night in Vero Beach, Florida.  I must admit that I was sad; I had such a wonderful vacation.  I lounged in the sand, soaked up the sun, shopped in expensive boutiques, tried a new style with a new haircut and feel completely at peace with myself and those around me.  That vacation had been everything I needed it to be and more.  However, I must also admit that I missed New Jersey and as I left, I was excited to see my family.

As far as the so-called itinerary I had in mind for the trip, I did not finish “The Fountainhead” by Ayn Rand, but I only have a few pages left.  I wrote, but nothing of real value or quality, and nothing as far as truly beginning a second novel.  I talk about writing a lot, but I fear that lately, it has become only talk and nothing more.  I have to make the time to read and write, and truly devote myself to my passion.  I know that statement seems paradoxical and that one could argue that if I was truly passionate, I would not have to force myself to make time for writing.  That being said, I will admit that teaching consumes much more of my time than I had originally anticipated.  The goal for next year is to strike a healthier balance between striving for my dreams and being responsible at work.  Teaching pays the bills and while I love it and am fulfilled by it, writing is what pumps my blood through my veins.  Writing is what I see when I close my eyes, and the first thing I look for when I open them.

While on vacation, I attended the sunrise mass for Easter and went with Kim and Carol to Cracker Barrel for breakfast.  It was the perfect ending to a perfect trip.

One of my ceramic brackets for my braces popped off while I was eating sushi … imagine that.  I’ll called my orthodontist and set up an appointment.  Once I got there, they removed the brackets – surprise!  there was two – but did not replace them.  If it’s not one thing, it’s another; but I say that with a smile on my face.

Below is an assortment of photos from my vacation.  Enjoy!  Maybe one will inspire YOU to create a poem or a short story.  If one does, please feel free to share it!

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On being worse than teenage poetry.

Published April 27, 2012 by mandileighbean

I teach twelfth grade English at the local high school. I interact with teenagers every day, bearing witness to the comedies and tragedies that fill the hallways, cause lockers to slam angrily, demand hall passes and fill their little worlds right up. I enjoy being an audience member to one thousand mini-melodramas five days a week, and to be honest, I find it fascinating. I don’t think teenagers should be ridiculed and lectured on the importance of perspective because as we age, we lose the passion we once had. I think perspective should only be mentioned when comforting the distressed, and I definitely do not believe that one should be admonished or feel ashamed because they reacted passionately to an event, a person or an idea they felt strongly about. We should forever be passionate.

That being said, I’ve decided to share some of my “teenage poetry.” The following poems were written when I was in high school. Feel free to judge them harshly 😛

“Untitled” (Actually, the title of this poem was the name of the boy I liked at the time, but names have been changed to protect the innocent 😉 )
Even though the words are awkward
And I don’t know what to write,
I’m sure there’s something I need to say
so that I can set everything right.
Sipping liquids that are too hot,
Willing them to burn your tongue,
Feeling a thousand years older
And now wishing you were young.
Sitting at a lonely table
In a coffee shop in the mall
On your hands and knees, I beg you.
I am daring you to crawl
Back to the ones that loved you
Back to me who still does
And maybe now we can share that drink
That never was

Apparently, one of my friends saw this beloved boy of mine at the Starbucks in the local mall, and commented that he was alone, drinking coffee. I loved this image of him – I romanticized his loneliness, enhanced my own desires and wistfulness. That boy was everything to me when I was fifteen and if I am being completely honest, I still think about him a lot. Is it because he’s the one who got away? Is it because things ended so badly? Is it because I feel so stunted emotionally? Who knows?

“Untitled” (This one really didn’t have a title, I promise)
The lines on the page start to blur.
The pain shoots up my spine.
The sweat drops off my forehead.
There’s a pounding in my mind.

One pill, two pills, three pills, four
I took the whole bottle with regret
I downed a whole bottle of vodka
So many things I just had to regret

My body’s shaking and I can’t see
I trip and stumble until I hit the floor
I raise my weary, pounding head
There’s no redeeming light behind that door

There’s no saving grace, no second chance
Someone lied to you, it’s okay to give up
I was close to the edge and I decided to jump
Life was hell, enough was enough

I convulse on the floor, puking in pain
I took my own life without regret
Life was shit so I’m moving on
I openly welcome death

This poem is embarrassingly juvenile; I realize that. Suicide is NEVER a viable option, let alone the answer. The hopelessness that pervades the poem is unnerving- were things really that bad less than a decade ago? They weren’t, but I’m sure they felt like they were. I am not ashamed of this poem, or that I have several suicide-themed poems in my arsenal, because the writing helped me to express all my feelings into something positive, into a creation. The writing saved my life.

“Untitled” (There was a time when I totally titled my poems … this just wasn’t that time, apparently)
fix the seams of all my parts
starting with my broken heart
make me whole, make me complete
get me back out on my feet
but take me by my trembling hand
and help me to fully understand
how your needles and your thread
brought me back from the dead
you breathed new life into me
made me whole, happy and healthy
i owe you every breath i take
thank you every time i wake
because you’ve saved me
you’ve ressurected me
because you love me
i can be
healthy
whole
and happy

There are notes from a math class besides the poem – clearly, I wasn’t paying attention and I need to send an apology to Mr. Savitsky. Not only did I not understand anything that was happening in math class, but I did not understand real heartbreak or recovering from heartbreak. Writing is all about writing what you know and experience. I had very little experience with anything at fifteen – other than the social microcosm of high school – and now, at twenty-three, I feel the same. I have yet to travel, to have a full-time job with benefits, to live on my own, or to experience a whirlwind romance. I crave these things every day, and they do find their way into my writings, but then the writing comes off as cheap and not genuine.

My friend Brandi and my mentor both told me to start living; to finally begin my journey. I vowed to you that I would.

But have I?

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