Priorities

All posts tagged Priorities

On knowing you’re alive and here for a reason, and knowing that it’s okay not to know why just yet.

Published December 14, 2014 by mandileighbean

It’s been almost two months since the last time I posted an entry.  I’m ashamed and feeling guilty about it because I always promised myself that writing – and the promotion of my writing – would be a priority, but here I am, placing it upon a burner far in the back, which may not even light, because I have become consumed with work and its corresponding extracurricular activities.  I never thought I would delay a dream for a boring adult responsibility like employment.  I never wanted to become boring or sell out.  The question then becomes why am I doing it?  I think it’s time to completely buck convention and go utterly transcendental.  This summer, I plan to walk the entire eastern coast of the state of New Jersey using the East Coast Greenway.  I was inspired by Thoreau, Emerson and Cheryl Strayed, author of her memoir Wild, which has been turned into a film of the same name starring Reese Witherspoon.  Lately, I’ve been feeling like I need to get away to figure myself out.  I became a stranger in the sense that I’ve been letting secondary elements control my emotions and ultimately make my decisions.  As a result, I don’t exactly know what I want or who I am, and feeling lost is an awful and terrible feeling.  I feel like a phony – like an imitation of an imitation – and I worry those I love and admire are getting sick of my narcissistic shenanigans.

I’ve got to get back to my basics; back to writing.

WRITING PROMPT #19: A man comes to believe that he is an emissary of God when he survives a plane crash in which all other passengers are killed.

Brian Johnson was laying upon a gurney, being rushed along the tarmac to the waiting ambulance.  Its back doors were open, and its lights were flashing soundlessly in the frigid crispness of the December evening.  Brian saw the distance to the ambulance shorten as he was gently jostled over the smooth pavement, rocked into a soothing kind of trance.  He was eager to become numb and absent because after all, it had been one hell of a day.  No one wakes up in the morning expecting to be the sole survivor of a plane crash, particularly one that smashes against the ground on the runway of the desired destination, so close to home.

The flight had been en route to Atlantic City, landing at the small airport.  Passengers had been composed of family members traveling to reunite with other family members for the impending holiday.  Brian had been one of the few singletons, and as such, he had been crammed into a row with a family just trying to survive.  Luckily, he had the seat nearest the window.  Beside him was a precious and precocious brunette who was about four years old.  Next to her was a harried-looking mother with an infant cradled in her arms, and beside the mother was the exhausted father who also cradled an infant in his arms; twins.  A small smile twitched Brian’s lips as he observed the family, quiet and tired, not talking to one another, and seemingly blissfully happy to be seated and finally ready to go.  The little girl was bouncing a teddy on her knee, singing some nonsense song Brian had once known but had long forgotten upon leaving the playground so many years ago.

Some time after takeoff, Brian had adorned his ear buds, cranked the volume on his iPod, and fallen asleep.  He was terrified of flying and only boarded planes when there was absolutely no other alternative, so he only survived when he slept through it.  Surviving a flight had taken on a completely different meaning when Brian awoke to terrified screams.  His eyes shot open and he savagely ripped the ear buds from his ears.  Everything was shaking wildly; it was the worst turbulence Brian had ever experienced.  He had only ever seen it in cliched horror films.  He was looking this way and that, but found no answers or comfort, only faces grotesquely contorted into unadulterated terror.  The oxygen mask suddenly fell before his face and Brian knew this was it.  It was all ending and he wasn’t entirely sure how that knowledge made him feel.  He turned to the family beside him, saw the mother and father enclose their infant children, and saw the little girl squeezing the teddy, sobbing.  Without thinking about it, he encircled her in his arms and felt relieved when her tiny hands grabbed onto the fabric of his shirt.

And that was all he remembered.

Brian regained conscious on the ground.  Everything ached and burned, and he only saw things in blurred images.  He could smell smoke but he couldn’t hear anything over the sound of his own breathing.  For an irrational moment, he wondered if he was under water.  His legs and back felt wet, but then there were people standing above him, looking down with shocked faces.  He was trying to tell them that he felt weird, and that he couldn’t hear, but they couldn’t seem to hear either.  They went about their business as if he wasn’t screaming.  He was lifted up and onto the gurney and he was being ushered to the waiting ambulance.

As Brian rolled right along, his head flopped to the side and he saw the sheets, the countless sheets covering the countless, mutilated bodies of his fellow passengers.  One such sheet had a charred teddy bear beside it and Brian knew he should be dead.  He should have died.  But he didn’t, and Brian considered what that might mean.  Maybe he had been spared.  He thought back to late nights spent with his father on their screened-in back porch, where his father smoked like a chimney and pontificated at length about religion and politics and women and family and life and death and everything in between.  He had once told his son that God had a plan for everyone and that everything happened for a reason.  His father claimed that’s what the scientists really meant when they insisted that for every action, there was an equal and opposite reaction.

So the plane had gone down, and Brian was still breathing.  What was God’s plan?  Was Brian supposed to value life in a way he hadn’t?  Because to be frank, he thought he had been living life to the fullest and if there was some part of it he wasn’t quite getting, then Brian thought the Big Man didn’t have to be so dramatic; a little subtlety never hurt anyone.

How to explain the dead little girl and the burned teddy bear.  What was the rationale behind that?  Then again, maybe that was why Brian had been spared, to figure it out.  Maybe Brian was supposed to tell the world about the family beside him and their love to the very end and that protective instinct.  Maybe such a story would inspire others, give them hope, and help Brian from feeling guilty.

But maybe it was just fucking chaos.  Slipping in and out of consciousness, it was hard for Brian to tell.

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On nasty surprises.

Published July 12, 2014 by mandileighbean

It has been just about two months since I last posted.  I am ashamed to admit that I let life get in the way.  The school year got the best of me – a clear indication my priorities were shuffled and rearranged about a thousand times.  I thought I fell in love, but thinking about it only makes me feel small, sad, and stupid, so I’ve now come to the realization that it wasn’t love.  I have yet to determine what it was, but it’s over now, and I don’t think I’m a better person because of it.

But I have been writing.  I am three chapters into the new novel.  I have a short story to share with you all as part of my “weekly” writing prompts.  My contract with Martin Sisters Publishing will expire next year, so I have begun the search for a literary agent.

I am hoping to close on a home of my own at the end of this month.

There is good, and there has been bad, and in this exact moment, I find it difficult to describe exactly how I feel, but maybe that’s okay.  We’re all entitled to feel numb and completely apathetic now and again, aren’t we?  I think it’s a coping mechanism or, even worse, a defense mechanism of sorts.  I don’t know why I’m feeling so pensive or cynical.  Maybe I’m simply hormonal?  Maybe it has something to do with the heartache I alluded to?  Maybe it’s the dark direction I steered my short story in?  Maybe I simply spend too much time alone?  Whatever the reason, I apologize.  And I also sincerely hope you enjoy this week’s writing prompt.

WEEKLY WRITING PROMPT #15: “A mother discovers a feminine collection while cleaning her son’s bedroom.”

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            “What an idiot!  How could that not have sent up a red flag?” Kelly McCarthy asked no one in particular.  The question had to be rhetorical since she was sitting alone on the slightly worn – but still perfectly comfortable – couch in the living room of the home she shared with her small, loving family.  She was mindlessly eating some low fat, low calorie, low carb potato chips (but all the health benefits meant nothing when she was likely to eat the whole damn bag in one sitting) while watching her favorite true crime documentary channel.  Currently, the channel was airing some cleverly named show – with an alliterative title, most likely – about handsome boyfriends and husbands who were not who they said they were.  This lady had married this good-looking fella after only a few months and found herself bruised and abandoned and robbed.  Sympathy was hard to come by, however, because if this female had thought clearly and not been blinded by a strong jawline, she would have seen through the obvious fabrications and been alarmed by some universally troubling behavior.  These women were not like the sudden rash of young girls that were missing – some had been found but all who had been found were already dead – in a city farther north than the one she called home.  Those girls were too young to be anything other than naïve and innocent.  How could someone who had not even graduated high school know better, let alone really know anything about anything?  No, these women, these suckers, had no one but themselves to blame.  Kelly was shaking her head, feeling pity but mostly disbelief and borderline disdain, when the dryer’s buzzer sounded loudly throughout the one-story, ranch-style home.

            Reluctantly, Kelly peeled herself from the overstuffed cushions and shuffled her slipper-covered feet through the kitchen and into the cramped laundry room.  She listened to the textured bottom of the slippers scuff against the vinyl tiles that floored the kitchen, and she listened to the buzzing of the dryer now only a step away, but other than the low and constant humming of the television, there were no other sounds.  Kelly found herself home alone, as she usually did in the middle of the day throughout the week.  Her husband, Charlie, battled a sizeable commute to the northern part of the state and her son, Joey, was a sophomore at the high school, and though he was scheduled to come home early in the afternoons, around 2:00 PM, Joey never usually showed up until dinner time.  He was always busy with some kind of extracurricular activity and Kelly couldn’t be any prouder.  He was so popular and studious.  Over dinner, Joey always regaled his parents with stories of the humorous antics of juveniles and how Joey was truly an asset to the school community.  A smile formed on Kelly’s lips of her own accord as she thought of her son, her only child, her pride and joy.

            It was a load of his clothes that had just been dried and were now patiently waiting to be folded and placed back in the drawers, or hung in the closet.  Typically, Kelly did not do her son’s laundry – he was nearly sixteen years old – but she had felt particularly generous this idle, random day and for no reason that she would ever be able to articulate.  Later on, Kelly would wish she hadn’t felt so – she would even raise red-rimmed eyes to heaven and demand of whatever God resided beyond the clouds why He had blindsided her with such terror and tragedy.  But before that moment, everything was normal and just as it should be. 

            She shoveled the random assortment of shirts and pants and socks and underwear into an empty laundry basket and trudged down the long hallway to her son’s bedroom.  It was the last bedroom on the right and its door was marked by a single poster, perfectly centered.  The poster advertised a poetry festival in a metropolis near her husband’s work in the northern part of the state.  Joey was such an intelligent, well-mannered boy.  He wasn’t like all those other boys his age, who were loud and aggressive and obnoxious and obsessed with their penises.  He was quiet and patient and obedient and enjoyed females, but not to the point where it consumed him.  He was balanced and healthy and beautiful and whole.  Again, Kelly caught herself nearly beaming when thinking of her baby boy.  She balanced the laundry basket on her particularly bony hip and turned the doorknob.

            The door was locked.  That was odd.  Joey’s door was never locked.

            Kelly placed the laundry basket on the floor and ran her hand along the molding that ran along the top of the doorway.  She was waiting to feel cool metal beneath her fingertips; the key to her son’s room.  She found it and unlocked the door, and pushed it wide open so she could traverse through the doorway with the laundry basket.  Her slippers shushed against the plush carpet and she gladly tossed the laundry basket on the bed, careful not to upend it of its contents.  It bounced jovially once or twice before rocking itself right.  Kelly walked to the dresser directly opposite the meticulously made bed.  She had developed the tactical plan of putting away the socks and underwear first because that would be easiest – Joey just tossed them in the top drawer of the dresser.  The pants and shirts would be decidedly more difficult as Joey had a system in place that Kelly had yet to decode.  A giggle tumbled from her mouth; how funny for Joey to be so organized.  She wondered where in his lineage she could attribute the trait, as both her and Charlie were both hopelessly sloppy.

            When she pulled open the uppermost drawer, a sound she had not been expecting met her ears.  Kelly distinctly heard something substantial sliding forward with the movement of the drawer.  It wasn’t the soft whisper of fabric, but something heavier.  Kelly pulled the drawer out as far as it could go without making it tumble to floor.  She looked within and she found a rather extensive collection of jewelry.  There were necklaces and bracelets and long, dangling earrings that younger girls would wear – colorful, gaudy, attention-getting.  Icy apprehension flooded Kelly’s stomach like the waters would a sinking ship because Joey did not have a girlfriend – not one that he ever mentioned, anyway.  Besides, there were too many pieces for one girl and there was no consistency in taste or style.  Kelly was under the impression that the jewelry had belonged to many different girls with unique and wonderful personalities, just as varied as the necklaces and bracelets and earrings.  Why would Joey have such things hidden among his undergarments?  And why was his door locked?  And if he had a girlfriend, why didn’t she know anything about it?  Why would Joey be keeping secrets?

            Whoa – Kelly stopped herself.  She stepped back from the drawer and shook her head, but still, she couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong, terribly wrong.  Maybe it was all the reality crime television she had been ingesting lately.  That was all – she had simply seen too many shows about serial killers who were meticulous, guarded, and kept mementos of their poor, tortured victims, such as jewelry.  She brought a trembling hand to her mouth and slowly shook her head back and forth again.  Joey wouldn’t do anything wrong.  Joey wouldn’t harm a fly, not Joey, no, no, no.

            Her eyes slipped to the closet.  Snooping would only end in heartbreak and pain, as did it for all mothers who found more than they bargained for in the bedrooms of their children (pornography, cigarettes, marijuana, naked selfies, etc.).  But Kelly now needed to snoop for exoneration.  She needed to clear her son whom she had already condemned.  She moved to the closet door and slide the nearest door open.  It creaked unsteadily along the track, and Kelly’s eyes fell to the floor.  Joey’s shoes – so clean, so clean – were in neat and even rows.  Sneakers, boots, shoes for church; there was a place for everything and everything was in its place.

            So what was the deal with the duffle bag thrown carelessly into the corner and out of sight?  Unless, of course, someone was looking for just such a suspicious detail as Kelly was.  Slowly, shaking, she dropped to her knees and reached into the dark recess of the closet.  She pulled the bag, scratching the vinyl with her nails and sending chills up and down her spine.  Breath moved in and out of its own volition, but it did not seem to be all that willing.  The necessary oxygen came in jerky spurts and Kelly feared she would hyperventilate and pass out.  What if Joey came home and found her like this?  What would he think?  What would she say?  Kelly inhaled, exhaled, and unzipped the bag.

            There were dark colored sweatpants with a dark colored sweatshirt, rope, gloves, and the light reflecting off of something metallic and sharp – a knife.  Kelly screamed and threw the bag from her.  She scrambled back against the bed and slumped into a seated position.  This didn’t make sense, couldn’t add up to what she was assuming.  No, those girls were missing from up north, from where Charlie worked.  Why would Joey ….

            Joey had taken an interest lately, hadn’t he?  Joey traveled up to work with his father whenever he could, whenever Charlie offered.  That wasn’t often enough, though.  Not to commit murder – surely not!  Joey would have to go up after school, take public transportation, and he couldn’t.  Well, Kelly supposed he could, but he wouldn’t.  After all, he had all those obligations which he never gave specific details about and which never culminated into something tangible, even something as simple as a telephone call from a club advisor or certificate of participation with the principal’s rubber stamp.

            What the hell was going on here?

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On being bold and priorities.

Published November 10, 2013 by mandileighbean

I freely admit that as of late, I have been something of a “Stranger Danger” when it comes to this blog, and to my writing career at large.  Teaching seems to be taking up every spare moment of my time, leaving me exhausted and uninspired.  I have always desired for teaching to be my career, but I never intended for it to become my life, to consume me.  I must then be bold, and align my priorities to my dreams.  No writer ever became successful by whining and making excuses.

That being said, I have an author event scheduled for Thursday, November 14th at Ocean County College in Toms River, New Jersey at 12:30PM.  The event is only open to students, faculty and staff, so if you are on campus that day, stop on by!  I will also have a table set up at the Ladies’ Night at Manchester Firehouse on Saturday, November 16th.

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WEEKLY WRITING PROMPT #5: “A man traveling overseas meets the woman of his dreams, but they don’t speak a common language.”

     Michael had never been outside of the continental United States of America.  He had never even ventured to Alaska or Hawaii, let alone a country that was an ocean away.  He reasoned that most of it was because he was absolutely terrified of flying, and part of it was because of his never promising financial situation; he always seemed to be struggling, to register just a step behind.  Even in college, when he had wanted to study abroad in England, when he had access to financial aid, scholarships, and student loans, he had not been able to swing it.  As a matter of fact, the only reason Michael was seated by the window of a 757 airplane was because his father had died.  At the ripe old age of 57, John Sullivan had dropped dead of a heart attack.  Just about a month ago, just a few short months before he was due to retire; Mr. Sullivan had been in the break room of the warehouse at the seaport in Elizabeth, New Jersey.  He had been pouring himself a crappy cup of coffee into a Styrofoam cup when everything just suddenly seized up and stopped.  He couldn’t breathe or think, and so he simply collapsed and died.  There had been no goodbye for his youngest child, his only son; no words of wisdom, no teachable moment as he lay dying about life and love and what is really important.

There had been a horrendously depressing funeral where Michael had to practically carry his mother from one uncomfortable folding chair to another.  She wept and fell, popped another Xanax, called for her husband who was six feet in the ground, held her two daughters (Michael’s older sisters), popped a Xanax, stared off into space, crumbled, popped a Xanax, withered, and slept.  She had been more of a presentable widow, though she would be forever heartbroken, at the reading of the will.  John Sullivan, in death as he always had been in life, took great care of his loved ones.  Each child received $15,000 and a personal, sentimental memento (Michael had inherited his father’s varsity letter jacket).  His mother inherited everything else, aside from unremarkable amounts of money left to John’s one sister and six brothers.  Michael sat alone in his childhood bedroom sometime later, turning the check over in his shaking hands again and again.  His mother advised him to invest it.  His oldest sister encouraged him to save it, to simply put it away.  His other sister hugged him tightly and told him to do whatever he wanted because that is what their Dad would have wanted.  So he had kissed her, packed his bag, and here he was, flying across the Atlantic.

Michael had decided on France; he could not explain why he had chosen France, but it felt right.  Then again, maybe it was the valium and glass of vodka he had ingested and imbibed shortly after takeoff.  When he landed, there was a substantial terrifying amount of time where Michael panicked over changing currency, renting a car, and struggling to understand and be understood.  But despite initial terror and uncertainty, events had unfolded smoothly and before long, Michael had located his hotel, unpacked his bags, and hit the town.  Night had descended upon Paris as a familiar love, and Michael had trouble articulating the myriad of exciting feelings which were enveloping his saner, more rational self.  Sitting outside a populated bar, sipping from a glass of merlot, Michael felt smarter, stronger, sexier, and more alive than he ever had before.  Possibilities were endless and seemed more like guarantees than anything else.  He could be the life of a party- any party.  He released a short, anticipatory breath and leaned back against the faux wicker chair he was sitting in.  The emerald, checkered tablecloth created a desirable ambiance, but the outside of the bar was deserted and Michael did not want to be alone or lonely or anything of the sort.  He downed the rest of his merlot and hurried back inside.

The music was loud, but lacked the thumping bass so common to American nightclubs and as a result, was classier and more elegant.  Michael liked that; he liked that the interior was dimly lit but the lights reflected warmly against the mahogany, and Michael felt comfy, cozy, and right at home.  He slid against packed bodies that were not grinding mindlessly and sweating profusely, but talking – discussing lively topics.  This was where Michael was supposed to be – he was sure of it – and he bellied up to the bar, ready to order another glass.  His finger was poised in the air and his mouth was open, ready to call “Garcon!” but an intoxicating beauty cut him in line, speaking rapidly in French with a remarkable smile.  She had long, wavy, dark hair that fell past her shoulders.  Her eyes were dark and round, and caught the light in a similar fashion to the way that the mahogany did.  Michael’s mouth stayed open as he watched her, in her scarlet cocktail dress, move like liquid, in rolling waves of self-confidence and beauty.  He knew that he needed to know her.  He leaned closer to her, tapped her on the shoulder so that she turned towards him.  He extended his hand and said, “Hey, I’m Michael.”

After only a slight hesitation, she took Michael’s hand in hers.  Her grip was somehow feminine and firm, somehow perfect.  “Bon soir,” she greeted.  She liked his darker features and she liked his smile.  He was an American, a tourist, but there were worse things a man could be, she reasoned.  All of this assessment was hopelessly lost on Michael, who assumed she was providing her name, Dawn Soar.  He beamed and jerked his head backwards, towards the dance floor.  He asked her if she would like to dance and made a childish and endearing sort of pantomime.  She laughed at his innocence and brazen nature, but nodded and allowed herself to be led onto the floor.  There was a wizened veteran of the bar scene seated before the ivory keys, crooning beautifully.  Fearsome of awkward silence, Michael began talking and did not stop.  He told her everything, how much he missed his father, how much he worried about his mother, what this trip meant, how beautiful she was and how thankful he was that he had met her.  She listened patiently, a small, sad, concentrated smile on her pretty face.  She rested her head on his broad, masculine shoulder, which Michael assumed was a good sign.  They stayed that way for an eternity, swaying until the lights came up – the international signal that it was time to head home.  She looked up at him with sleepy, romantic eyes and explained, in her best French, that she could understand English but could not speak it, but would be thrilled to see as much of him as possible during his stay.  She also told him that her name was Antoinette, and Michael blanched because he had been calling her Dawn the entire time.  She wrote her number on a napkin and disappeared into the crowded Paris streets.

Michael woke with the dawn the following morning and purchased a translation book from the lobby of his hotel.

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